Fifty years ago, the first jazz band at Belmont got its start: Jazz Band I. As Belmont’s reputation for excellence in music education has grown the past fifty years, the vibrant jazz community on campus has grown as well. Today, Belmont boasts multiple jazz ensembles, dedicated professional jazz faculty and a plethora of successful jazz musician alumni.
The jazz community gathered Feb. 24 – 25 for a campus celebration in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Jazz Band I. The weekend featured incredible performances from jazz alumni, students, faculty and leading jazz artist and saxophone legend Chris Potter, as well as a masterclass with Potter.
Some of the main distinctive opportunities of the weekend were the chance for alumni to serve as mentors to current students hoping to pursue their love of jazz professionally after graduation and for students to get the chance to play with Potter.
Junior AJ Huang said the weekend was a surreal experience. “Chris Potter is one of my heroes and someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, so getting to learn from him and play with him was a dream come true! I’m really proud of how much jazz at Belmont has developed over the past few years, and I can’t wait to keep striving for greatness with the amazing musicians and wonderful friends I’ve made in my time here so far,” he said.
Huang was able to trade with Chris Potter. During the rehearsal before the show, Huang was nervous about the “blazing fast, intricate lines” Potter was playing that he felt he had no chance of picking up on. However, during the actual show, Potter assessed where Huang was at and played where he could follow along. “His playing gave mine so much more energy. He’s truly a masterful musician who is able to lift others up around him with everything he does,” said Huang. “This experience taught me what it means to really have full command over your instrument and to have a deeper understanding of music as a whole. We think about music in similar ways, he’s just way more advanced than me, which was encouraging and a sign to keep on working! Jazz weekend reminded me why I love doing what I do so much, and solidified my aspirations and drive to become the best musician I can be even more.”
Alumni enjoyed the chance to return to campus and relive some of their favorite memories with the jazz community on campus.
Double alumna Natalie Layne (2020, commercial music, piano, songwriting emphasis and 2022, commercial music, piano, performance emphasis) came to Belmont not having studied jazz but said her time working with jazz professors changed her career as she makes jazz-influenced music to this day.
“I can’t exaggerate its effects on the way I’ve been able to move forward with music,” Layne said. “It was such a blast to see friends from my time at school, plus musicians that I work with in the industry that I didn’t even know went to Belmont! What a beautiful night of music and honoring the professors that have built the program.”
Max Dvorin, 2018 alumnus and current masters student in Belmont’s Multiple Woodwind Degree program, served as the assistant director of the alumni concert. “My favorite part of the event was being able to see and play with musicians that I have not seen in years,” he said. “Another cool moment was realizing how many great alumni are killing it in the music scene. I didn’t realize some of the musicians in town were alumni until that night. We are all connected though Belmont, which is truly amazing.”
Another alumna, Hannah Anders (2007, commercial voice), is currently a touring southern rock artist and master vocal coach. She quoted her husband talking about the event saying, ‘What a rare and beautiful gift to have the opportunity to re-live such a great time in your life at an age when you can really appreciate it.’
“Truer words could not have been spoken about this event,” she continued. “I think that we all anticipated that the event would be fun and nostalgic, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for how meaningful and beautiful it would be to come back together in the place where we met, to see the growth of our beautiful school and to see each other again after so long. All a little older, a little busier, a little more responsible, but still at our core, the same people who fell in love with our passion for music and for the people who guided and led us at Belmont. It was like being transported back into a little precious time capsule. It was the salve my soul didn’t know it needed. I will cherish this experience forever.”
View photos from the weekend in the following galleries: