When anyone at Boston University needs a little jazz to brighten up an event, whether on campus, at Fenway Park, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the House of Blues, WGBH, the Boston Common—the list goes on—invariably, the call is answered by the BU Scarlet Jazz Combo.
“It’s a catchall name for the jazz ensemble that performs for on-campus and off-campus events,” says bandleader and trumpet player Josh McDonald (GRS’15). Culled from the CFA Jazz Ensembles (sometimes simply referred to as BU Jazz), musicians in the Scarlet Jazz Combo hail from as many different ensembles within that umbrella group as there are venues to perform: the Big Band, Monday Jazz Combo, Wednesday Jazz Combo, Jazz Chamber Music, and Jazz Guitar Lab, to name a few.
The particular permutation that arrives at Dean Elmore’s house for this year’s “BU Today Sessions” are a group of student musicians who have never played together. Sebastian Andrews (CAS’14) (drums) and Kelsey Hsu (CAS’16) (upright electric bass) form the rhythm section. Michael Simpson (SAR’14) plugs in the electric guitar and takes a seat on a couch at the video crew’s request. Michaelina Dupnik (ENG’14) warms up her vocal cords for a cover of the jazz standard “All of Me,” a number she had been working on for a recent master class with Dee Dee Bridgewater.
McDonald has worked with each of the musicians in other configurations, and the newly assembled group needs little preparation to propel themselves through the two performances. “We relied heavily on body language and musical cues to stay in communication with each other,” McDonald says after the session. “Luckily everyone has big ears. We listen closely to each other. That also helped make the session fun, because it was so organic and relaxed.”
Behind the diminished chords, brush patterns, and walking basslines is a set of musicians with interests as varied as their repertoire. Andrews is passionate about Latin music and Iran. In addition to leading an a cappella group, Dupnick works in a lab for Muhammad Zaman, a College of Engineering biomedical engineering professor. Simpson plans to attend medical school. And Hsu, McDonald says, “spent one of our breaks on a recent gig in a vigorous argument about the original intent behind Article II of the Constitution.”2 Comments