In the brightly lit ambiance of a small coffee shop in Sioux Center, Iowa, lies a band where the rhythmic pulse of Josiah Troutner’s guitar reverberates through the air echoing Ayden Chett’s melody on the piano. As Angel Skipping’s loud trumpet blares a fantastic melody, while Brandon Englin keeps the beat in the drums, Elena Lee’s saxophone weaves its dark yet beautiful melodies as Olivia Lott belts above it all with an angelic yet jazzy voice. Within this wonderful experience exists a timeless magic that presents itself within the music of the Just Jazz Combo. Even though their music is beautiful, it is about much more than just instruments and vocals: it is about community.
This past Saturday, Sept. 16, the Just Jazz Combo from Northwestern College performed their first concert of the year. They played at an event at the Fruited Plain in Sioux Center known as Pork n’ Bands, where they were able to give a sneak peek at what exciting music the community can expect from them this year. Jason Lief, a professor of theology at NW, got the band in contact with the Fruited Plain to play at the event. Their first set list consisted of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Cannonball Adderly, “Fly me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra, “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse, “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder, “Kill Bill” by Sza, “Girl From Ipanema” by Frank Sinatra and “You’ve got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman. Each song was played in a jazz style, even if the original version was not traditionally a jazz piece. Fans were especially surprised by “Kill Bill,” as it is a very traditional pop piece. With all of this in mind, it certainly excites their fans to know what is coming in the near future for their favorite jazz band, although the band’s past proves to be just as fun and exciting.
The combo had existed long before saxophonist and Junior history education major, Lee, joined the Just Jazz Combo. She was recruited for a shared event between Dordt University and NW, called NCDC, to be the lead saxophone for the band. “Luke Van Peursem (a NW alumni) asked me if I would like to join for the competition,” she stated. “I told him no and continued to tell me that rehearsals started that Wednesday.” In the past, the band had only played for the donor banquet and NCDC, however they plan to play at more events, such as Pork n’ Bands.
A similar story explains how trumpet player and music education major, Skippings, joined the band. Lee had contacted her, asking her if she was interested. She immediately saw it as a wonderful opportunity and joined. The Pork n’ Bands performance was actually Skippings’ first performance with the band. “I love the band because we all have different ideas,” she explained. “It’s cool to find ways to combine them all.” She explained that, when they work together, they get a product that they all are a part of. The jazz combo practices at least three times before each performance. However, these performances heavily rely on improvisation. Improv is music made up on the spot. “We just have fun!” said Elena when describing improv. “It makes jazz jazzy!”
Greatest of all, the band relies on community to thrive. There is no leader or director for the band, as it is based on collaboration. It is very easy going compared to normal symphonic bands and orchestras. They share a love for music without stressing about the logistics of it. You can find the Just Jazz Combo at any of their next performances, those being NCDC in November, or the Donor event coming up soon.