Jazz meets Afro-Pop

By Jessica Cabe

Students are getting jazzed up for a performance at the House Café tonight.

The Jazz Combo Fest, one of two performances per semester for the jazz combos in the NIU School of Music will be held 6:30 p.m. tonight at the House Café, 263 E. Lincoln Highway. The free event features six traditional combos and the new Afro-Pop group. Each will perform three songs.

Graduate assistant Christopher Johnson, who will direct one combo and perform in the Afro-Pop group, said the latter group is a new addition to the jazz combo program.

“One of the students is from Africa and got permission to start the combo,” he said. “This is the first year we’ve had an Afro-Pop group.”

Afro-Pop draws influences from many different places and genres. Traditional African music fuses with jazz and contemporary styles to create a fresh new sound best enjoyed in a live performance environment.

Watching a combo perform is a slightly different experience than seeing a jazz ensemble or big band, said Art Davis, director of the jazz combo program.

“These are smaller groups, usually from three to seven people,” Davis said. “They allow for more room for improvisation, which is the key to jazz in my opinion.”

The Jazz Ensemble is made up of roughly 20 students, and the group focuses mostly on technicality and reading music, Davis said. Jazz combos create a freer, more experimental environment for students who want to improve their improv.

While any NIU student has the opportunity to participate in a combo, most of the members are jazz studies majors. Other music and non-music majors must undergo an audition process in order to be selected. Because of the small number of spots available, a high skill level is expected from all players.

The Jazz Combo Fest has been going on for 21 years, said Ronald Carter, coordinator of jazz studies. He said it used to be held in the Diversions Lounge of the Holmes Student Center, but the House Café provides the jazz club vibe essential in making the performances perfect. Also, the House draws more community members rather than just NIU students, Carter said.

Watching a combo perform live is completely different than sitting down and listening to a jazz record. Bearing witness to improvisation from talented musicians is exciting because, as an audience member, one hears something completely new that has most likely never been played before.

The next Jazz Combo fest is Tuesday, November 29, 6:30 p.m. at the House Café.