The bright lights of Loeb Hall reflect off gleaming brass. A raucous warmup intermingles with laughter and horseplay from the musicians.
“Flip it!” co-director Brandon Hall yells. The band members turn their pages and eagerly wait to play the next number. Lips touch mouthpieces, drumsticks pound the snare, and fingers hit the keyboards. A big, brassy sound erupts from the room, and things get swinging. They are a cohesive and compatible group of musicians.
But it wasn’t always that way. The group was only mildly successful in 2012 because of its inconsistent practice times and unreliable members. In January 2014, trombonist Andrew Meyer approached Hall about recreating the band. “I wanted to play in an ensemble where I or someone else could choose the music, and we could play places around Columbia,” Meyer says.
Meyer thought the orchestra could be another outlet to play more difficult and enjoyable music. It just needed a little arrangement. So Hall and Meyer brought the Columbia Jazz Orchestra back to life and became co-directors of the ensemble. To ensure a successful turnaround, the two agreed to bring more control to the group. The duo started calling people whom they knew from their experiences in and around Columbia.
Now, this revived orchestra has succeeded in its original goals. One big brass, string and drum family, the orchestra has grown to include 18 people. Almost all are present on Monday nights when they rehearse for their Broadway Brewery performances. The shows have been well-received since the group started playing there last April.
The orchestra consists of three trombones, one bass trombone, a piano, a guitar, a bass, a drum set, five saxes (two altos, two tenors and a baritone), and five trumpets, including two leads.
“Brandon keeps us accountable and tells us what we are doing wrong, which I think everyone finds refreshing and honest,” says Nancy Dietz, a tenor sax player who is also a pharmacy supervisor at the Columbia VA Medical Center. She and her husband, trombonist Rob Boullion, both play with the band.
“Even though we’re different ages, we’re all kind of the same because there’s no age difference for music,” she says.
Although many are students, some members are out of school and have jobs during the week. Others also live outside Columbia. Members from all different backgrounds come together for their love of music and a quick escape from everyday routines. Jazz is more than just playing off the music; it’s also about playing off each other. There is no room for self-importance, only good times and good jazz.