Keene State Jazz Combos performed an energetic show on Friday, November 12 at the Redfern Arts Center Alumni Recital Hall.
Jazz Combos consists of two groups of students learning how to play and improvise music within the jazz genre and other similar styles. “A lot of the focus is being able to play with each other, fix musical problems, and musical communication,” director Steve Cady said.
During the performance, Cady and his musicians worked together to ensure each piece was creatively organized and that the music was balanced with the soloists. “It’s really working creatively in pretty stringent confines… you can be super creative and flexible with the rules,” Cady said.
The performance consisted of music from a wide period of jazz, such as the opening piece “Limehouse Blues,” which was from the Dixieland era. “It moves pretty fast,” guitarist Zachary Defeldecker said, “It was hard to keep up and [the drummer] did a really great job of keeping that fast tempo and keeping us moving.”
The performance also included pieces by popular artists such as Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder and Aerosmith, which really resonated with the audience. Additionally, the Frank Sinatra jazz ballad “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” really honed in on the soloists’ capabilities and was a smooth transition between for the faster repertoire.
Pianist Rory Butler, who performed in both groups, described how rhythmically challenging the piece “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” was, saying, “We had to work on not rhythmically beating to death the piece through every solo,” Butler said. On top of the piece being rhythmically challenging, this blues crossover also featured a vocalist which had the group focusing on transitions, layering, and balance.
Jazz Combos closed the show with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, which was a crowd favorite and an effective way to incorporate pop culture into the performance. “We kept [the performance] pretty interesting,” Cady said.
Finally getting to perform after two years made Cady and the other musicians extremely happy. “COVID [was] disruptive,” Butler mentioned. “Disruptive and restrictive because [we] only meet for so many minutes before having to do an air exchange… and having to leave the room [after creating] all this amazing energy.”
The students also have to wear bell covers on all their instruments to prevent particle spread, which affects the tuning of the instruments.
Regardless of these obstacles, Butler chooses to be grateful, “It’s been beautiful to see music prevail through these times, and I’d much rather have this opportunity to play with people in this way than be isolated [with] recordings.”
Butler was ecstatic when she heard the audience’s applause and interactions after each solo, “I’ve never had anyone applaud after my [playing] …it was a special moment and was genuinely an amazing feeling in my soul, as a musician.”
Defeldecker took a creative approach to his solos, one being by playing his guitar behind his head. “Back in the ‘70s, people started playing the guitar behind their head,” Defeldecker said, “So I took a page out of the rock n’ roll book there, it definitely took practice.” This musical skill and his expression while playing left the crowd stunned.
Defeldecker said he appreciates everything Cady and this group has given him. “It’s always a pleasure to be taught by Professor Cady,” Defeldecker added. “He has so much to bring to the table… and always communicates with us and sets everybody up for their solo very well,” Defeldecker continued.
Butler also feels supported by Cady and the rest of the Keene music department, “I feel really good at Keene, and really good under [the instruction] of Cady… I’m in a very supportive environment that allows me to grow.”
Butler and Defeldecker both expressed how much they love the atmosphere of the group. “One of the great things about Jazz Combos is how relaxed it is,” Defeldecker said. “It creates more musical communication between both teachers and students, and that creates a lot of fun and a better sound.”
Being in the group has influenced Butler, “I love these people… Jazz Combos is absolutely life changing because it’s given me confidence.”
Cady and the other members of the group encourage students to consider joining them in the future. “You’ll probably never find a group as cool and inviting,” Butler mentioned. “You’re going to learn more about yourself and your instrument.”
Defeldecker added, “Students should consider joining Jazz Combos because of how fun it is… it’s a musical outlet and the most [unique] ensemble in the music department.”
The Jazz Combos Classes are Fridays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Redfern Arts Center and any students interested should contact Cady at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole Dumont can be contacted at