The art of inspiration and improvisation

Published in The Rebel Yell issue 09/27/2007

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A jazz quartet, some swing, Latin, traditional jazz and a mambo kicked off the jazz department’s fall season Tuesday at Artemus Ham Concert Hall. The concert featured the Liberace Scholarship Quartet and Jazz Ensemble I.

“It’s gonna be a night of real jazz,” Bruce Paulson, one of the jazz ensemble directors, said before the concert began. “[The audience] will hear a wide range of both small and big band jazz. It’s gonna be a cross-section of the medium.”

The concert was split in two halves. During the first half, the audience watched and listened to the Liberace Scholarship Quartet. This group featured four members of Jazz Ensemble I, a pianist, Otto Ehling; tenor saxophonist, Julian Tanaka; bass player, Abe Gumroyan and drummer, Andy Roberts.

The Quartet played jazz from across the board. With two songs of the five-song set composed by the pianist, Ehling, one song arranged by Tanaka and another song arranged by Gumroyan, these musicians really showed their jazz skills and talent.

“I haven’t heard real jazz like that in a long time,” Paulson said. “Aren’t they just great?”

After the Quartet’s set was over, 14 other band members joined them on stage, creating Jazz Ensemble I, a big band.

Every song featured at least one ensemble member as a soloist, so many of the musicians were able to show off their jazz skills by improvising solos throughout the concert.

“We like to give all the students the opportunity to show their talents in jazz off,” David Loeb, director of Jazz Studies at UNLV said.

While the soloists played, the rest of the band bobbed their heads and jived in their seats to the beat. There was a real sense of passion for the music and respect for the students’ fellow musicians.

“We pride ourselves on our ensemble’s groove factor,” Paulson said. “What we do is gritty, earthy and rhythmically exciting. It’s what jazz should be.”

The concert was well-received by the audience. Members would often clap after each musician’s solo, or hoot and holler at the musicians, in a supportive way.

“It was a feel-good concert. The music was good. The company was good, and everything came across effortlessly,” Nathan Kimball, a UNLV alumnus and former member of Jazz Ensemble I, said.

Even though the jazz department has been around for more than 20 years, Loeb and Paulson are fairly new to UNLV. They both came to the jazz studies program six years ago.

Both Loeb and Paulson have had very successful careers in the jazz industry. Loeb, a jazz pianist, was a member of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and has played with jazz musicians, arranged music for recording artists and conducted many orchestras.

Paulson, a trombone player, played in the “Tonight Show” band for 20 years and has also recorded and played with many jazz talents.

Under the direction of Loeb and Paulson, the ensemble has had the opportunity to travel the west to participate in performances and festivals. They have performed in Reno, California, Arizona and Utah.

The jazz department was a bit different before Paulson and Loeb got there though. Somehow it had money. Jazz Ensemble I was able to travel internationally, performing in Japan, Portugal, Morocco and Spain, to name a few, but unfortunately the jazz department today has not had those same opportunities.

The problem is not a lack of talent, however. The problem is money.

With only about 100 seats out of the almost 2,000-seat concert hall filled, the hall looked a bit empty. “Jazz just isn’t as accessible anymore, and people around here don’t really know about it,” Loeb said. “We want to change that.”

The jazz department is planning a release reception for their three CDs which are due out Oct. 9. The CDs are a blend of everything, much like Tuesday night’s concert, and were done completely by students. “[The CDs] were recorded at UNLV, and the students really did it all—we [the instructors] just oversaw [the process],” Loeb said.

The department is located in the Ham Fine Arts building. They have several more concerts to come for their fall season. For more information or for a concert schedule, visit their website at

Their next event will be the release reception on Oct.9 for their three CDs. Then on Oct. 10, the jazz department’s faculty will be performing a free concert at the Flamingo Library at 7 p.m.

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