The award-winning jazz ensembles at the University of Northern Colorado offer students performance opportunities in big bands, combos, vocal jazz groups, and Latin jazz. With over 30 years of history, UNC’s jazz ensembles have earned numerous accolades, including:
- More than 90 Downbeat Student Music Awards.
- GRAMMY nomination for the album Hot IV by Vocal Jazz I.
- Numerous performances at national and international conferences including IAJE, Midwest Band, and others.
More than 150 students participate in jazz ensembles. Although the groups are comprised primarily of music majors, they are open to all students by audition. Placement auditions are held at the beginning of the fall semester.
UNC’s five big bands, known as “Lab Bands,” have a long history of being among the best college jazz ensembles in the country, and offer students exciting, challenging, and rewarding musical experiences. Alumni of the bands are enjoying successful careers as performers, composers, music industry professionals, and educators.
UNC Jazz Lab Band I, directed by Dana Landry, has won four Down Beat awards in the last five years, two as “Best College Big Band.” Lab I has performed throughout the U.S. and has accompanied major jazz artists including Slide Hampton, Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, J.J. Johnson, Jim McNeely, Benny Golson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kevin Mahogany, Kenny Wheeler, Bob Mintzer, Bob Brookmeyer, Peter Erskine, and others.
The five lab bands perform three concerts each semester, one of which is held at the Union Colony Civic Center, a state-of-the-art 1600-seat theater. The final performance each spring is at the UNC/Greeley Jazz festival.
Vocal Jazz at UNC has a long tradition of national and international acclaim, and UNC’s Vocal Jazz I was the first college vocal group to ever receive a Grammy nomination. Over the years, UNC groups including the Axidentals, Sus4, and Et Cetera have toured the U.S. and Europe, released multiple albums, commissioned and debuted pieces that have become standard repertoire, and have won numerous awards and accolades. Alumni of UNC’s VJ groups are successful professional and studio singers, arrangers, educators, clinicians, and industry professionals.
Northern Colorado Voices, UNC’s current flagship group directed by Kerry Marsh, was named a regional finalist in the Harmony Sweepstakes, a national competition for professional a cappella groups.
In addition to the Northern Colorado Voices, there are three other Vocal Jazz Ensembles that vary in size and composition based on the strengths of the students involved. Groups perform diverse repertoire of jazz, Latin, and pop/rock/R&B styles including pieces by New York Voices, The Idea of North, The Real Group, Take Six, and other professional vocal groups.
Vocal Jazz Ensembles rehearse twice a week and present one concert every semester. Each group enjoys a featured appearance at the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival in April. UNC also produces the Jazz Singers Showcase, giving VJ Ensemble members a chance to shine by being featured on a solo song with a top rhythm section.
UNC’s eight small jazz ensembles (or combos) offer challenging and rewarding experiences in studying and performing jazz. Over the years, UNC’s jazz combos have performed throughout the country and have won many awards. Outstanding combos record at the UNC Recording Studio each year.
Instrumentation varies, but combos typically include a rhythm section and 1-3 horn players. Groups perform diverse repertoire of standard jazz tunes and compositions by jazz greats, students’ original compositions and arrangements, and other repertoire suggested by members and directors. Combos help students develop jazz skills, particularly in improvisation, ensemble support and interaction, rhythmic feel and groove, and tune knowledge.
Groups meet twice a week– once for a rehearsal and once for Combo Forum, where all combos meet to perform and discuss playing concepts. Combos present one concert each semester and also play at the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival each April. Outstanding combos have opportunities to perform at other live and studio events.
The UNC Jazz Guitar Ensemble is a specialized group dedicated to celebrating the instrument’s rich history in Jazz. This group presents the students with a special environment where they perform in a section of 5 to 8 guitarists, plus rhythm section. Students concentrate on ensemble interplay, articulation, comping, soloing, sight-reading, and the use of electronic effects.
The group focuses on a wide range of literature, including the music of great guitarists including Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, and Jim Hall. They also perform arrangements by Mundell Lowe, Fred Hamilton, and other classic arrangers for the guitar ensemble.
The goal of the ensemble is to prepare guitarists for the wide variety of musical situations experienced by professionals. Students have the opportunity to write arrangements for the group, which are in turn recorded by the students at Studio UNC every spring.
The UNC Latin Jazz Ensemble is dedicated to studying and performing Afro-Cuban, Latin, and South American music that has been influenced by jazz, and it celebrates the broad fusion of cultures and ethnicities that we share in Colorado. The exact instrumentation varies, but typically includes piano/keyboard, bass, percussion (timbales, congas, bongos, etc., and sometimes drum set), a horn section, and often times a vocalist.
The ensemble plays hybrids of jazz, salsa, merengue, cha cha, samba, bossa nova, and other styles. Music of Poncho Sanchez, Tito Puente, and Sergio Mendes is often programmed, in addition to original arrangements of jazz standards.