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Jazz Is Alive and Well at the University of Utah

Programs were not provided for the show and performers themselves didn’t know what they were playing until they were counting off.
Arts Pass Event Sundays @ 7: Jazz (Courtesy of University of Utah School of Music)


This past Sunday, the Arts Pass Event Sundays @ 7: Jazz featured faculty and students alike playing together on stage, collaborating and clashing in a soundscape of jazzy excellence.

Jazz On the Fly

Programs were not provided for the show, which left the audience in the dark as far as what pieces would be performed. Why? Because the performers themselves didn’t know what they were playing until they were counting off to play. This is what’s called a jam session —  an informal musical gathering in which the musicians have no plans as to what they’re playing until seconds before.

This jam session consisted of the jazz department faculty and the Michie Jazz Quintet. Each song performance had a different combination of musicians and their instruments as they played classic jazz standards like “Have You Met Miss Jones” and 12-bar blues.

Josiah Boornazian is the director of jazz studies at the U. He was on stage with his saxophone, both playing in and directing the jam session. After the musicians on stage conferred amongst themselves to decide what to play, Boornazian would kindly inform the audience of the piece and its historical context.

The Controlled Chaos of Jazz

While jazz may seem chaotic at times, it follows a certain musical formula that any practiced jazz musician is intrinsically aware of. This makes jam sessions possible, as the musicians know the customs of jazz and are able to play with them and manipulate them.

Jam sessions are particularly entertaining for the audience because they get to see jazz music get formed in real time. They get to watch the performers as they exchange glances to determine who gets to solo next, see the facial expressions of said soloists as they play a particularly spectacular riff and listen to the call-and-response between performers as they converse through their instruments.

It’s worth noting how, nowadays, listeners of live jazz are capable of sitting calmly in their seats, applauding when appropriate. Compare this to how jazz, when it was at the height of its popularity, would practically force its listeners to get out of their seats and dance. This difference in audience behavior begs the question, is jazz dying?

Is Jazz Dying? 

Jazz had its moment during what F. Scott Fitzgerald coined The Jazz Age in the 1920s and ’30s. Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Nat King Cole among many others were household names. Jazz was a symbol of a new generation of freedom following the first World War. It was also a tool for identity and an outlet for Black musicians as they dominated the jazz scene. The Jazz Age was controversial due its association with excess, rebellion and discrimination against African Americans, but it left a mark on American culture both socially and musically.

It’s been a century since the flamboyant days of the Jazz age, and some wonder if jazz is dying out. Jazz seemed to be virtually forgotten by mainstream music listeners until a certain artist named Laufey came along.

Laufey Lin, an Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter, is making it her mission to bring jazz to Gen Z. She fuses jazz, pop and classical in songs about growing up and love, relating to her young audience as they navigate these same subjects. Her most recent release, Bewitched, includes a cover of “Misty,” a well-known jazz standard. In her songs, Laufey perfects the rich, suave tone mastered by jazz icons of the past.

I think it’s safe to say jazz is not dying with artists like Laufey calling attention to the genre and with jazz shows and programs at the U that are providing the captivating sound of jazz to anyone who’s ready to listen and be swept off their feet.


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About the Contributor
Grier Abercrombie, Arts Writer
(she/her) Grier Abercrombie is a sophomore studying English and computer science. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, she grew up going to the beach, playing the piano and video games, and reading, all of which are things she still loves to do.

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