Jazzy tunes from within the University

Only old people seem to play jazz in Groningen, thought Amber Krake. She approached her professor of Popular Music and now? There's the Groningen Student Big Band.

Jazzy tunes are bursting out of the big rehearsal room in the Stedelijke Muziekschool. A group of 14 musicians are rehearsing for their opening concert in November.

The Groningen Student Big Band is looking for new musicians to fill its ranks. The band is playing several jazz and big-band numbers. The band’s conductor is Kristin McGee, Professor of Popular Music from the Arts, Media and Cultural Studies department at the University. ‘We practise here every Monday’, she explains after the rehearsal. ‘We’ve just had our first gig at the Tour of Groningen cycling competition. It went very well.’

Conducting courses

The band started last December, when Amber Krake, an International Relations student and saxophone player, approached McGee with the idea of forming a big band specifically for students. ‘I played in some bands before I came to Groningen’, says Krake. ‘But there aren’t here. Most of the jazz bands are for older people.’

Fellow band member and International Relations student Saskia Groot agrees: ‘I didn’t know anyone who played jazz when I first arrived here.’

‘I didn’t know anyone who played jazz when I first arrived here.’

McGee immediately thought it was a good idea. Not only does she play the saxophone, she has also been on some conducting courses in Chicago. ‘We were clearly missing something’, she says.

After four months of auditions, the band started rehearsing with some students from the Prince Claus conservatory, who now form the rhythm section. ‘There are all kinds of students in our band’, says McGee. ‘We have a lot of different nationalities; there are Korean, Japanese, Hungarian, Slovenian, American, German and, of course, Dutch students.

The language barrier is sometimes a problem, but they are all enjoying the experience of playing in a big band and they get along very well. ‘Sometimes we go out for a drink or have a barbecue. It’s nice to do something creative that doesn’t involve too much reading and studying’, she says jokingly.

‘Fly me to the moon’

The band plays standard numbers like ‘Georgy Porgy’, as well as jazzy love songs like ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. ‘We mostly play swing and jazz’, says Krake. ‘We hope to play a little bit more funk in the future.’

They organize gigs themselves. ‘We spend a lot of time doing that’, says Groot. ‘Our goal is to perform in front of an audience, so we have our first big gig in November and after that we hope to play somewhere every month.’

Because some students will be leaving on placements or going back home, the band needs new members every year. This year’s auditions started on 25 September. Although any musician is welcome to join, McGee is particularly looking for saxophone, trombone and trumpet players. ‘Those are really hard to find, but we hope to have at least two new members after the auditions.’