A Day in the Life of a Jazz Major @ Eastman

March 12, 2017

As I write these words, we are almost halfway through the semester and with spring break only a few days away. Students are busy wrapping up midterms, rehearsing, practicing, preparing degree recitals, gigging around town, transcribing and listening to music, composing and arranging, and performing in ensemble concerts. All students at the Eastman School of Music are deeply invested in such a widespread array of activities as they share the common quest to become informed, articulate, and complete musicians. So what does all of this mean for a major in the Jazz & Contemporary Media (JCM) Department at Eastman?

My name is Matt Bent, and I’m from Red Bank, New Jersey. I play the drums and am a junior in the  Jazz & Contemporary Media department (JCM). In addition to my JCM degree, I am also pursuing a minor in German, and I also participating in Eastman’s Arts Leadership Certificate Program.  Here’s a glimpse into my typical day:

9:00AM – 11:00AM: The first thing I do on Wednesdays is report to Eastman’s Office of Admissions, where I am a Tour Guide and Admissions Assistant. I have a relatively quiet shift today as we’ve just finished our fourth and final audition week for prospective students.

11:00AM – 11:35AM: After work, I have a half hour to grab a meal before my next class. There are a ton of great places to eat on and around Gibbs Street, so this is often my most difficult Wednesday decision. Today, I walk across the street to Java’s Café, where I order a large coffee and “The Coltrane” sandwich (appropriately jazz-themed, and yummy!).

11:35AM – 12:25PM: Eastman’s Jazz Departmental Forum takes place every Wednesday at this time. As I enter the Ray Wright Room I am greeted by my fellow Jazz majors and faculty members. Jazz students at Eastman participate in one large ensemble and one Jazz Performance Workshop (JPW) throughout the year. Typically, one JPW will perform a concert for the Jazz students and faculty each week, and the faculty will then provide helpful feedback on the performance. Today, we have a visiting artist and speaker. Legendary saxophonist, Dave Liebman, presents a workshop on solo transcription. I leave feeling inspired to dig deeper into the history of jazz music and my instrument.

12:35PM – 1:25PM: My Intermediate German class is on the 3rd floor of the main building at Eastman. We have just finished our chapter test and are now reading German poetry from the Romantic Era. Learning a second language has allowed me to discover efficient ways to gain vocabulary, to realize the importance of fully immersing myself in unfamiliar subjects that I am interest in, and to pay close attention to clarity and articulation. All of these skills have direct translation to my growth as a musician, and Professor Reinhild Steingrover also makes learning a new language REALLY fun!

1:35PM-3:25PM : I say goodbye to my professor (“Auf Wiedersehen!”), and I quickly cross over to the Annex and take the elevator up to the 10th floor, where my drum set practice room is. I grab my cymbal and stick bags, and then I go to my JPW combo rehearsal in room A710. My professor for this class is Jeff Campbell, Bass Professor and Head of the Jazz Department. Dave Liebman stops by our rehearsal to listen to what we have been working on. We play “Toy Tune”, a Wayne Shorter composition, and “Country Song”, an original composition by one of our saxophonists, Luke Norris. Liebman seemed to enjoy the performance, and he gave us each helpful tips on how we could interact and shape the songs more effectively.

3:35PM-6:30PM: Ahhhhhhhh, finally a free block in my day! Without much hesitation at all, my friends Abe, Luke, and Tyrone and I decided to grab another cup of coffee. This time we walk a few blocks to our favorite place, Fuego Coffee Roasters. We stay for a few minutes to hang out and catch up.

Now that I’ve had even more caffeine, I head back to my practice room. I realize that I have about a two hour block before grabbing dinner and heading to rehearsal with The New Jazz Ensemble (NJE). I warm up for about twenty minutes, I practice sight-reading for a bit, I run through my charts for NJE, I work on a Max Roach drum solo I transcribed (“Brilliant Corners” by Thelonious Monk), and then I finish by looking over the assignments my teacher gave me in my last lesson. After this I cross Main Street and head toward the Eastman Dining Center, where I eat dinner with friends.

6:35PM-8:00PM: Professor Dave Rivello directs The New Jazz Ensemble. The rehearsal has a fast, efficient pace tonight as we prepare for our concert in Kilbourn Hall tomorrow evening. We will be debuting three original pieces by current Eastman students, and we will also perform two pieces by famed composer, Bob Brookmeyer. One of these pieces is entitled “El Co” and is a three-movement piece written by Brookmeyer for The Village Vanguard Orchestra. This piece is simply beautiful and a great joy to play.

8:00PM-9:00PM: At the end of rehearsal, everyone in the band is looking forward to tomorrow night’s concert. Next, I meet with Professor Rich Thompson, my private teacher, in his studio for my lesson. We bring each other up to date as I fill him in on upcoming performances of mine including a non-degree recital I am hosting in a few weeks, which will featuring compositions by Miles Davis’ 2nd Great Quintet. We then go over my assignments as well as my Max Roach solo. Rich gives me advice on using more effective sticking techniques and also helps me to achieve more fluid, relaxed phrasing in my playing.

9:00PM-10:30PM: I usually use this time to practice more, but tonight a few of my friends ask me to play some tunes. Ryder Eaton (bassist), Rowan Wolf (saxophonist), and I congregate in my practice room, where we play jazz standards and learn new tunes together. Playing in this setting is always really fun because it allows us to experiment freely and explore new ways to improvise and interact musically. After playing, I head down to the 4th floor and practice piano for 30 minutes.

10:00PM-11:30PM: 
I finally depart from Gibbs Street and walk a block to my apartment, where I do my homework assignments for the next day. Namely, I work on an arranging assignment given to me by Professor Bill Dobbins, and a reading from my German class with Professor Steingrover.

A busy day, but a good one.  Thanks for reading!