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Mirror Lake sees fall jazz debut

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OSU faculty perform on the Mirror Lake amphitheater stage on Sept. 11 as part of the School of Music's Jazz on the Lake series.

OSU faculty perform on the Mirror Lake amphitheater stage on Sept. 11 as part of the School of Music’s Jazz on the Lake series.

Students and faculty from the School of Music have been playing jazz at Mirror Lake every spring for decades. But for the first time, they’re playing concerts in the fall.

It’s a change that Jim Rupp, a lecturer in percussion, said was necessary as a result of the change to semesters from quarters. Under the old system, there was a concert every Thursday in May, but the shortened school year forced shows to be rescheduled. In 2013, when organizers pushed the concerts earlier into the spring, they found the weather often didn’t cooperate.

“April can be pretty dicey,” Rupp said. “I remember last year we looked at doing it and it was snowing. Another time it was cold and rainy.”

Instead of fighting the weather, organizers have moved two of the year’s four concerts to September. The first was played Thursday evening, and Rupp said it was a great improvement weather-wise. 

“The weather was gorgeous. It was the perfect time to do it,” he said.

The next concert is set for next Thursday, and will include the Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Lab, which is a more experimental group. 

“We’re experimenting with those dates,” said Ted McDaniel, area head of jazz studies. “We’re trying to attract an audience for the fall.”

The final two concerts are set for April 16 and 22, and McDaniel said spring has been a historically successful time for the concerts.

“It worked well during the month of May,” McDaniel said. “We always drew a healthy audience because people wanted to be outside.”

Multiple jazz combos and big band groups play at Jazz at Mirror Lake, a free event open to the public. Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students all play key roles in the event’s success, said Tamara Morris, spokeswoman for the School of Music.

Each jazz combo specializes in a different kind of jazz, such as Latin or New Orleans. These groups are made up of four to 10 people, while each big band consists of 18 to 20 members. 

The first show of the school year featured the Jazz Faculty Combo on Thursday evening at the Browning Amphitheater, right next door to the newly-restored Mirror Lake, which reopened after a $28,000 sustainability study over the summer.

“This event serves as an opportunity for (faculty members) to demonstrate their various talents,” McDaniel said.

Gabe Koempel, a third-year in jazz studies who will perform this year, said he thinks the quality of the performances will draw in listeners.

“We have world-class faculty in the School of Music,” he said. “I anticipate a fairly good turnout.”

Shawn Wallace, the university’s jazz saxophone professor, said jazz has great appeal and extends beyond the average person’s conception.

“I actually think the term jazz is problematic. It’s a terminology for marketing more than it is a descriptor about the music,” he said. “There are a lot of forms of music than have jazz in them. The primary thing that makes jazz different is improvisation. The beauty of jazz studies is that it puts you in a position to excel in every type of popular music. All of the roots of popular music … go back to jazz.”

Since students didn’t perform at the faculty event, they’re provided with more time to prepare for next week’s concert, he said.

Wes Perry, a fifth-year in jazz studies, has performed at the concert four times during his time at OSU.

“Being outside during the nice weather makes for a diverse audience,” Perry said. “It’s cool that people walk by and take time out of their day to listen to the music.”

Not being surrounded by walls is what makes playing at Mirror Lake so memorable, Koempel said.

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