On a typical Friday afternoon most GW students breathe a sigh of relief for the week’s end of classes, papers and exams. However this is not the case for ComboNation – a group of six aspiring GW musicians who can be found in the basement of Phillips Hall deep in the midst of a musical jam session.
The student jazz group ComboNation consists of freshmen Brian Burack (drums), Campbell Charshee (piano), Brendan Polmer (bass), Ethan Gormbley and Geoff Cain (trombones) and junior Scott Figler (electric guitar). The musicians met at GW through a collective passion for Jazz as well as a very inspiring individual – music Professor James Albertson, who brought the group together.
Cain explained how Professor Albertson crafted the unusual ensemble. “Instead of creating a normal jazz band consisting of saxophone and trumpet players, Professor Albertson selected two trombone players and a rhythm section for the group.” Since ComboNation formed, Albertson has served as the group’s principal mentor and source of guidance. “Professor Albertson has been a great teacher to all of us,” said Burack. “He helps to bring all of us to the same level, but at the same time he gives us the freedom to explore whatever it is that we want to musically.” While ComboNation is “very into improvisation” Burack said that it is different from other campus jazz ensembles because it “has more of a classic jazz sound.”
The classical elements of jazz usually include a head, or main melody and a recurring bridge throughout the song around which the musicians solo and improvise. ComboNation generally plays jazz classics and standards taken everywhere from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, namely from such classic players as Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, and John Coltrane.
Cain said that the combo has come a long way since the start of the semester and that the biggest reward has been learning to work together. “We have gone from hardly knowing each other to playing every Friday as a group. It’s a lot of fun to play together,” he said, stressing that jazz requires a great deal of interaction and coordination among musicians. Hard work and commitment have helped develop what Burack calls “a unified sound.”
Every Friday ComboNation participates in a weekly music session with several other student jazz bands, including BRICKHOUSE, Los Gringos, Jazz Vocal Ensemble and ?bercombo. Polmer says the jazz community at GW is actually rather small and close-knit: “there are only a handful of us who are very devoted to jazz and who always work it into our weekly schedules.” He did however mention that the Jazz scene at GW is growing, and that attendance at the weekly jam sessions has been on the rise in recent weeks.
ComboNation is currently preparing for its first off-campus performance in The 11th Annual GW Jazz Festival which takes place Friday and Saturday evenings (April 8 and 9). The festival will showcase five GW jazz bands in addition to the GW Faculty Jazz Quintet. The festival is an effort by the GW music department to raise awareness of jazz playing at GW. “It’s going to be nice to take what we’ve been doing all semester and finally put it on the stage,” Burack said. ComboNation will perform Friday evening alongside GW jazz combos BRICKHOUSE and the Jazz Vocal Ensemble.
ComboNation will perform at the local Jazz club H.R. 57 (14th and Q Street) Friday at 8pm. Tickets are $10 at the door and $8 with a GWorld.