Jazz ensemble performs classic jazz pieces at PAC


Photo by: Contributed Photo

The FMU Chamber Jazz Ensemble, comprised of seniors and Dr. Paolo Gualdi, perform jazz pieces for students and the public during the Nov. 28 concert.

Five students, Blake Avery, Caleb Oswalt, Kevin Washington, Lawton Sanders and Matthew Sanders, along with director Dr. Paolo Andre Gualdi, performed timeless jazz pieces for Florence locals and fellow students as the FMU Chamber Jazz Ensemble on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Blake Avery and Caleb Oswalt, both seniors studying music industry at FMU, played string instruments for the ensemble. While it is required for music industry majors to be a part of an ensemble, the two seniors chose jazz.

“Jazz is new to me. I started playing classic rock and blues, typical things you learn when you start playing the guitar,” Oswalt said. “This is me trying to expand my knowledge of playing jazz and also appreciating it. This is my first semester playing jazz ensemble and I’ve enjoyed it.”

Oswalt has been playing the guitar for roughly 12 years and began learning more classical styles once he started taking classes at FMU. He is also plays the bass, piano, mandolin, banjo and ukulele. Oswalt also sings.

“I chose jazz over the other ensembles because it’s more of an intimate setting and you get to know who you’re working with on a personal level,” Avery said.

Avery has been playing electric bass for nine years and began learning upright bass in 2016. The middle school he attended allowed students who met the grade requirement to participate in a jazz ensemble rather than concert band. He performed with the ensemble although they played music that wasn’t strictly jazz.

Avery played the trombone the first two years he participated in the ensemble before the decision was made to switch instruments.

“This semester, we decided that the upright bass would sound better in the jazz ensemble,” Avery said. “It’s an entirely different instrument which took a lot of time and work to play like I did in Tuesday’s performance. It was tough and weighs a lot more than it looks.”

When asked who inspires them to play the most, it was difficult to decide on one specific person or genre that made them want to play music.

“You’re always getting new influences, it’s always changing. There’s not really a ‘biggest influence’ overall, it varies from instrument and genre,” Avery said.

When asked who their biggest influences were, the seniors had trouble deciding on one, but could focus on specific ones.

“Joe Satriani is an instrumental guitarist, and I know it’s not a genre a lot of people listen to, but I find a lot of his techniques translate a lot into jazz playing,” Oswalt said.

Guitarist Andy Timmons made his way through the Florence area and both students were able to have the chance to perform with him.

“He played the drums for about 30 minutes before asking if anyone wanted to play the guitar with him,” Oswalt said. “I was like ‘yeah!’ and we played some Eagles.”

Both seniors have taken away so much from their experiences with the ensemble and working with Dr. Gualdi. They hope to grow as musicians and keep the appreciation for jazz music alive.

“Dr. Gualdi is an amazing professor,” Avery said. “He keeps us organized and focused, constantly makes sure we are doing what we need to do and answers any questions we have. He makes us play stuff we might have never considered and he is also willing to play pieces we suggest to him. In a way, it feels like more than a school ensemble, it feels like I’m doing something for fun rather than for a credit.”