Jazz Ensemble plans to add singer to group

By Claire Buchanan

Reggie Thomas, jazz studies coordinator and Jazz Ensemble director, plans to add another instrument to the group — the human voice.

Adding a jazz vocalist and creating a jazz vocal ensemble are in the works under Thomas, who took the place of former director Ron Carter, who retired in the spring after 20 years at NIU.

Jazz singing has not been part of the curriculum since Jennifer Shelton, a faculty member who taught private lessons, left in 1997.

Solo opportunities

Some Jazz Ensemble members are eager to have a singer join their organization.

“It would be cool to have vocalists as a part of the jazz program,” said Bobby Cooper, senior music education and jazz studies major. “We’ve had a few soloists in the past but usually just people that we knew and recommended to, at the time, professor Carter.”

Cooper, who plays trumpet in the Jazz Ensemble, said in prior semesters only singers with experience would be selected for vocal parts and there was not an open audition for a permanent position.

This semester, students like Brittany Anderson, senior vocal performance major, have approached Thomas about auditioning as featured singers with the band.

“I would definitely like to work with the Jazz Ensemble,” Anderson said. “I feel like it’s good for vocalists to branch out into different styles and genres of music. And including vocalists gives the jazz program a chance to grow. It creates more of a sense of community.”

Vocalists can set up an audition by contacting Thomas at [email protected].

Vocal ensemble

Thomas is also looking to start a jazz vocal ensemble after he has settled into his position, but auditioning for soloists is his first step toward that program. The jazz singing group would require bringing in a faculty member who can teach vocal jazz.

The ensemble was inspired by Thomas’ professional and personal experiences with jazz vocalists.

“I actually ran a vocal jazz ensemble when I taught at [Southern Illinois University]-Edwardsville,” Thomas said. “And my wife is also a jazz vocalist, so the components are there. It’s just going to take us some time to fully work it back into the program.”

Thomas said private instructions could help improve the skills of student musicians in the group.

“Without someone in place to teach private lessons, we’re not really serving our students well,” Thomas said. “For the work they’d be doing with the ensemble, they need to be getting private instruction.”

During his tenure, Thomas hopes to expand the jazz program to take advantage of all possible opportunities for students.

“Right now, when people think about the jazz program, many people identify with the NIU Jazz Ensemble,” Thomas said. “I don’t want the program to be recognized just by my name but by all of the faculty who are involved. We have world-renowned faculty.”