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UMBC student body gets jazzed
Photo by Levi Beverly for The Retriever

UMBC student body gets jazzed

The sound of jazz music poured from Lower Flat Tuesdays on Tuesday, April 25, for all of those in the Commons to hear. However, most of those who were walking through the Commons that day were probably unaware that there was an event planned that day for UMBC’s bar-lounge. There were no advertisements: no posters to be found on campus, no myUMBC notifications. Those who knew about the event were either jazz musicians themselves, or they were one of the fortunate few who heard by word of mouth.

Despite the lack of advertisement, curious students frequently stopped in to stop and marvel at the work of UMBC’s jazz ensembles, if only for a song or two. Is it fair to say that the jazz ensembles could be a cherished part of UMBC culture if they were given more chances to shine? Matt Belzer, who has been the Director of Jazz Studies at UMBC for nine years, believes so.

Belzer directs two of the four small jazz ensembles, the Saxophone Ensemble and the larger Jazz Ensemble in tandem with his colleague, Tom Lagana, who directs the other two ensembles and the Jazz Guitar Ensemble. Despite their guidance and teaching, Belzer stressed that UMBC’s jazz musicians are self-sufficient in addition to being exceptional performers. “The jazz students at UMBC work very hard. I know this, because I assign difficult work and challenging music! Like the rest of UMBC, my students have a strong work ethic,” he said.

Eric Turnquist, a freshman psychology major, music minor and the bassist for one of UMBC’s jazz ensembles, the Ars Nova Motet, affirms Belzer’s statement. “We practice from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Mondays, but a big part of the ensembles is finding time to get together independently  to practice. We determine a different time to meet in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building for one or two hours every week,” he said. “These independent practices allow us to get creative and make the songs our own. In addition to that, I try to study or practice the pieces in some way three to four times a week from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.”

Turnquist expressed his desire to have more opportunities to play every semester, beyond the two performances that are currently held every semester, in light of the hard work of his fellow jazz musicians. “Two performances really isn’t a lot. We work a lot on the songs and we only get to perform them twice,” he said. “I think a year or two ago, one of the jazz ensembles had a gig off-campus at Fish Head Cantina. I wish they would still do events like that!”

According to Belzer, while the jazz ensembles and music department as a whole have been booming in the past few years and UMBC has been gracious enough to allow the jazz ensembles play in PAHB and Lower Flat Tuesdays, the ensembles need to receive more support from the school. “Most other institutions have an arts fee which supports the cultural events on campus. It would be similar to an athletic fee which is charged regardless of an individual’s attendance at sporting events,” he said. “The budget for everything comes largely from our department rather than the university, which is the way an institution of UMBC’s stature would normally do it.”

He continued, “There could also be much better promotional support not only for events within our campus, but to prospective students as well. Every year, I meet a new undergraduate student who has never even heard of our performing groups and it certainly isn’t due to a lack of activity on our part. [Jazz  students at UMBC] do not get enough recognition by the campus body. At some point, we as a culture need to realize that a high level musical performance is an intellectual achievement worthy of recognition,” Belzer said.

All the jazz ensembles are performing on Sunday, May 14 at 3 p.m. in the Linehan Concert Hall. It will be the second and final performances of the semester.