College jazz project hits right notes in downtown Oswego

quartet performsSUNY Oswego’s music department is turning a downtown Oswego restaurant into a weekly jazz club to support students and the community.

The Oswego Jazz Project features a four-person core plus guest players from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at King Arthur’s Steakhouse, corner of West First and Bridge streets. In addition to entertaining audiences, the project also serves as a community outreach, practice for current students and a recruiting tool for potential student musicians.

It was the brainchild of Robert Auler, a pianist on SUNY Oswego’s music faculty, coming to fruition when the department hired Eric Schmitz, a jazz studies teacher and drummer. They form the core quartet with Trevor Jorgensen, a visiting assistant professor, on saxophone, and SUNY Oswego senior music major Max McKee on bass. A rotating cadre of singers and side players—current and prospective students, professors and alumni—join them for different numbers.

“We figured a lot of things could be integrated, from providing experience to our students to bringing the college and community together,” Auler explained.

“We’re able to provide something with a core of faculty that is a real-world environment for students to come out and play,” Schmitz said. “I think it’s a unique opportunity. I’m not aware of many colleges that sponsor a public jam session to give their students experience.”

They are working on assembling 30 to 50 jazz standards—such as “Autumn Leaves,” “Summertime,” “All of Me” and “Night and Day”—that prospective student players would know.

A jam-session feel and easy interaction at the admission-free weekly gigs show that jazz “is not a museum piece, it’s something that can really be fun for the community,” Auler noted. The first weeks have featured sizable and appreciative crowds that give students the excitement and experience of playing live in a more relaxed environment than a main-stage Waterman Theatre show, he added.

“The idea of bringing multiple generations together is also really exciting,” Schmitz said.

For the immediate future, the only Wednesdays the Oswego Jazz Project will not play at King Arthur’s are when the college hosts installments of the Ke-Nekt Chamber Music Series—Oct. 11, Nov. 8, Feb. 14, March 7 and April 11.

Schmitz said jazz clubs have mostly disappeared from America’s downtowns, especially in smaller communities, as jazz scenes mainly exist within university environments. This project attempts to reverse the process and bring jazz back from campus and into the community.

“It’s in a great location,” Schmitz added. “Everybody loves it. The management has been very flexible. I don’t think there could be a better situation to get this program started.”

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CONTACT: Eric Schmitz, 312-2981

PHOTO CAPTION: Going downtown—The Oswego Jazz Project, a SUNY Oswego music department initiative, has started holding weekly jam-session performances from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at King Arthur’s Steakhouse in downtown Oswego. The project serves as community outreach, a way for current students to gain experience and a potential recruiting tool for prospective students. At a recent performance are, from left, SUNY Oswego music faculty member Eric Schmitz on drums, senior music major Max McKee on bass, and music faculty members Robert Auler on keyboards and Trevor Jorgensen on saxophone.

(Posted: Sep 20, 2006)