For 14 years, Harpur Jazz Project has supported the Harpur Jazz Ensemble in making Binghamton a more musical campus.
The Harpur Jazz Project is a student-run, on-campus organization that works to uphold a high standard of jazz musicianship in Binghamton by funding Binghamton student jazz programs and organizing events with highly regarded professional jazz musicians, according to Andy Block, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and president of the Harpur Jazz Project.
“We want to expose the student body to everything the music has to offer,” Block said.
One of the primary focuses of the Jazz Project is the Harpur Jazz Ensemble, a Big Band jazz ensemble made up of students with strong performance ability and a determination to excel in jazz, said Michael Carbone, director of Jazz studies at Binghamton University and the head of the Jazz Ensemble. The band consists mostly of non-music majors.
“This is a great opportunity for students to round out their academic experience at Binghamton University and to make strong, life-long connections,” Carbone said. “Many of my students have come out of this experience and gone on to professional music careers, even if they weren’t full-time music students.”
The Jazz Ensemble is a music production course provided by the University; students can enroll by auditioning at the beginning of the semester. Those enrolled in the course earn college credit as they learn to perform Big Band music with an ensemble of approximately 20 people: five saxophones, four or five trombones, four or five trumpets and a five-piece rhythm section, Block said.
Students need to audition every semester that they wish to perform in the band, so as to maintain the high musical ability of the students in the band, Carbone said.
“This is a group that is very dedicated to the craft of playing music,” Carbone said. “It’s an outlet for them to do what they did with their high school bands and take it even further.”
Binghamton has a long history of containing high quality jazz programs. The Jazz Ensemble was founded in 1964 by professor Al Hamme, but even before that, a small student jazz group performed at BU all through the ’50s, Carbone said.
Since its formation, the Harpur Jazz Ensemble has garnered a reputation for itself and for the Binghamton Jazz Program as a high quality student jazz program by bringing in big-name jazz performers like the Duke Ellington Legacy to play with the ensemble and by putting on top quality performances, Carbone said.
“These guys work incredibly hard to put on their very best performances,” he said.
The ensemble plays one large-venue show at the end of every semester at the Anderson Center for a $3 charge and one or two smaller, free shows around campus.
“Last semester, we played at a salsa dancing night which we hosted with the dance club,” said Block, who was the principle alto-saxophone of the Jazz ensemble until this year.
In addition, members of the ensemble often play at the Lost Dog Café. They perform at the restaurant’s biweekly open mic night for jazz musicians that is organized by Carbone and his band, Miles Ahead.
“It is a vehicle for members of the Jazz Ensemble to sit in and jam in a small group setting,” Carbone said. “It’s a great outlet for them to practice and hone skills like improvisation in front of a small audience.”
Student musicians from Ithaca College and Cornell often attend these sessions at Lost Dog, which take place every first and third Wednesday of the month, according to Carbone.
The Harpur Jazz Project and the Harpur Jazz Ensemble have been working together since Carbone took over the jazz program in 1997. He said he saw that the groups could help each other achieve their goals.
Primarily, the Jazz Project supports the band financially, by providing about $1,500 per semester toward organizing jazz events.
Every year, the Jazz Project collaborates with the Anderson center to put on the Jazz Ensembles end-of-semester show, by providing new equipment to the band when necessary. The Project has also coordinated with world-renowned jazz musicians such as Bruce Johnstone, Pat McConnel and Steve Davis to perform with the Ensemble at various small performances around campus.
Carbone encourages his students in the Jazz ensemble to take up active roles in the Jazz Project so that they can share their enthusiasm for jazz and uphold the high standard of jazz in Binghamton.
This involves organizing additional projects and events outside of the Harpur Jazz Ensemble.
In the fall of 2010, the project collaborated with the Anderson Center to bring Pat Metheny, a 17-time Grammy Award winner, to Binghamton. The jazz guitarist performed with his orchestrion, a wall of string and percussion instruments that have been mechanically automated to respond to the notes played on Metheny’s guitar, to a nearly packed crowd in the Anderson Center.
“There were only a handful of seats left empty,” Block said. “That was an unbelievable show.”
In the winter of 2010, the project coordinated with New York-based musician Wayne Escoffery and his band the Zeneration to perform a free concert and masters class, a clinic in which Escoffery discussed his experiences in jazz with students, in the Casadesus concert theater.
“They really work hard to maintain this really high standard by bringing in high-level artists from around the world rather than just local B-list artists,” Carbone said.
It is too early in the semester for Block to say exactly who will be coming to Binghamton in the near future but he promises “there are events coming this semester.”