The Jazz Studies program “is known for helping each student develop his or her individual sound and for creating an encouraging environment,” according to its unofficial website, umkcjazz.posterous.com.
Students from the program have performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, and have earned awards at the University of Notre Dame, the University of North Texas, Elmhurst College and the University of North Carolina – Greeley.
There are multiple Jazz performance opportunities such as the Jazz Combos, the Concert Jazz Band and the 11 O’clock Jazz Band, for which auditions are open to all students, regardless of major, just before the fall semester. The jazz ensembles are part of the Conservatory’s Instrumental Studies program.
There are several Jazz Combos, led by Adjunct Instructor Doug Auwarter, Adjunct Instructor Gerald Spaits, Instructor and Assistant Jazz Studies Director Dan Thomas, Professor and Jazz Studies Director Bobby Watson and Adjunct Instructor Bram Wijnands. Combo rehearsals are twice a week, and they perform live at local Kansas City jazz clubs, as well as performing at concerts in the Conservatory.
The Concert Jazz Band, directed by Watson, is the “flagship jazz ensemble of the Conservatory,” according to the Conservatory’s Jazz Performance Opportunities page. This band consists of five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones and the rhythm of a piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion.
The 11 o’clock Jazz Band, directed by Thomas, was formed in 2000. It includes five trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, piano, guitar, bass and drums. This band performs in concerts on and off campus several times a year.
Spaits teaches the bass students, as well as directing a combo two times a week. “The level of students has risen since Bobby’s taken over,” he said. “The kids can go out and play professionally, and they’re on the right track.”
Spaits said he likes everything about teaching, especially “when it works.”
“I like it when they appreciate what I do,” he said. “And when someone tells me that something I said helped them.”
Some Jazz students have started a student organization, The Jazz Collective. According to Senior Brian Steever, the contact for The Jazz Collective, the group “exists primarily as a way to get funding for master classes.” The RooGroups profile says the group’s purpose is “to seek funding for guest artists and advertise for their appearances.” Membership requirements include being a part of the UMKC Jazz Department.
Jazz Friends, founded in 2000, “aims to encourage the creative artistry and talent of UMKC Conservatory students and faculty, heighten the eminence of the Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Program and celebrate the legacy of Kansas City jazz.” Scholarships are a priority for the organization, as are funding for guest artists, providing unique sheet music for the Concert Band and helping with financial support so the groups can travel to national and international competitions.