CSUN Jazz “A” Band recognized as one of the best college ensembles in the nation


File Photo/The Sundial

Ron Rokhy

The CSUN Jazz "A" Band rehearses Wednesday, Oct. 19 in Cypress Hall. Photo Credit: Simon Gambaryan / Daily Sundial

Dressed in suits and with instruments in tune, 23 college students took center stage and prepared to play before the crowd in the USU Plaza del Sol Performance Hall on Oct. 6. The light reflecting off their polished brass added to the anticipation as they waited for the director to motion their start.

As the music began to flow seamlessly and the melodies started to harmonize, the director stepped aside and allowed the students to take it away, returning occasionally to adjust their instruments or help them keep rhythm.

The students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, are a selected group of skilled musicians who comprise CSUN’s Jazz “A” Band, a professional-level ensemble that is recognized as one of the best college jazz bands in the nation, according to their website.

Jazz, a complex genre of music characterized by syncopation, improvisation and blaring solos, requires great technical ability to play, and students must show they are fully able to comprehend its intricate design before they are granted membership into the band, according to the band’s director Matt Harris.

“We have auditions the very first day of school every semester,” Harris said. “We look for students who have great sound, can play in tune perfectly, have music reading skills and can improvise well.”

Usually, the band consists of juniors and seniors because they are more experienced. However, this semester the band welcomed five freshmen, something Harris described as very rare.

One of those freshmen, Jacob Scesney, 18, said joining the Jazz “A” Band was something he’s wanted to do since he was in sixth grade and saw them perform live.

“I’ve looked up to this band since I was little,” Scesney said. “I’ve been playing music for my whole life, and I’ve been looking forward to join them since I saw them.”

Scesney, who recently graduated Idyllwild Art Academy, joined the band as an alto saxophone player and occasionally gets his own solos. As a child, Scesney started out as a piano player but his musicianship slowly evolved, and he began to master woodwinds and then the saxophone, which led him to be accepted into the band.

“It’s absolutely surreal to be a part of this,” Scesney said. “It still hasn’t hit me yet. I haven’t really had a moment to realize what I’m a part of but I love it, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Drummer Brijesh Pandya, 21, a third-time participant, said he loves being a part of the band because of its great reputation.

“We’re the best college jazz band on the west coast,” Pandya said. “Drummers are said to drive the band, and I’m proud to be a part of this program.”

The band prides itself on playing sophisticated solos and being prepared. They also have the unique characteristic of having a repertoire that includes both music from the 1930s to now, and student arrangements and unpublished songs.

“On some levels, we’re better than professional bands,” Harris said. “This is because we pay attention to small details and are well-rehearsed. The kind of music we play is extremely sophisticated, and sometimes even arranged by the students. You don’t see many college bands do that.”

Whether creating fresh arrangements or impressing audiences with their elaborate solos, the CSUN Jazz “A” Band’s continuous flow of incoming talented musicians keeps its strong reputation intact.