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Eastman Jazz: Two Ways to the Same Stage

Each spring, two of the big bands at Eastman, the Eastman Jazz Ensemble and the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, put together a split concert that they perform in Kilbourn Hall. While the two bands have a similar makeup in terms of the size of the group and the instruments, they each take a very different approach to the music that they will play on the very same stage.

While the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble is known for playing newer music, the approach of ensemble director Dave Rivello is a rather traditional one. He sticks very closely to the score, ensuring that each part is played as faithfully as possible to the intention of the composer. Even as the form allows for some of the improvisation that is at the heart of so much jazz music, it’s largely influenced by the rhythms, dynamics and notes on the page that have come before the solo.

Eastman Jazz Ensemble director Bill Dobbins takes an entirely different approach to his half of the concert, at least for this one show. While his approach is normally very much in the tradition that Dave Rivello follows with the New Jazz Ensemble, for this one concert, Dobbins puts together all the music without anything written down. Every note, every dynamic, every rhythm and phrase is put together in his head, usually influenced by well known recordings, and then given to the band one bar at a time. Over the course of several weeks of rehearsing, the musicians are able to memorize and even internalize the music to the point where they can perform it without any visual aid, other than the conductor that’s standing in front of them.

While the two methods are very different, the jazz program at Eastman allows for this sort of exploration and experimentation that in some cases follows tradition and in other instances seeks to break new ground. Even more poignant is fact that both bands can take such different paths and yet play on the same stage.

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