The Jazz Ensemble Program

Led by Artist in Residence Kris Allen, and featuring a large ensemble (Williams Jazz Orchestra) and several small jazz ensembles, jazz at Williams has many exciting facets. The exploration of the great Black American art form we call jazz is a collaborative journey involving students, faculty, and occasional guest artists. Within a supportive community, students grow and learn together. Ensembles are directed by Professor Allen or Artist Associate Gregg August.

The Williams Jazz Orchestra (WJO) performs repertoire that spans the history of large jazz ensemble music by great composers and arrangers including Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Oliver Nelson, Maria Schneider, and Darcy James Argue among many others. The WJO performs one major end-of-semester concert, often featuring a guest soloist. (Guests have included Ray Vega, Tanya Darby, Lionel Loueke, Alexa Tarantino, Bruce Harris, James Burton III and Benny Golson!) This ensemble also teams up with the ballroom dance club each semester to stage the very popular Swing Dance from the intimate stage of Goodrich Hall. Performing to a packed dance floor in the style of the 1930's era Count Basie Orchestra, the band prepares by absorbing the technique of corporately improvising "head charts," an important part of jazz language and big band history.

Jazz Combos are a cornerstone of Jazz Activities; an opportunity for students of varying experience and skill levels to discover and practice skills of improvisation and group interplay. Group members not only study standards and pieces by artists such as Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Joe Henderson, Horace Silver, and Geri Allen, but they are also encouraged to contribute compositions and arrangements of their own. Combos create an opportunity to gather skills that help students become active lifelong jazz musicians. These ensembles rehearse twice weekly for a total of 3 hours, and perform 3 times per semester, in a variety of campus settings.

There is one audition period held over two days during the first week of the school year that serves to populate all of the Williams Jazz Ensembles, (WJO and Combos). Please follow the link to our fall Open House and look for the jazz auditions sign-up. Please note that the sign-up sheets are open at the end of August.
Prepare any piece (at all!) of your choosing to play for Prof. Allen. You will also be asked to sight-read and to improvise over a blues or other progression of your choice. We'll also talk about your musical experiences and preferences and about any scheduling concerns. It won't be so bad.

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Jazz Groups for Hire
If you are interested in hiring a group of Williams Jazz students to play at a public or private event, please contact Kris Allen - [email protected]