Notes filled the air as the musicians warmed up. Trumpeters ran up and down musical scales, evoking fireworks at a fairground. Trombone players bellowed rich tones while sliding their brass tubes with piston-like efficiency. The saxophonists tested their full range of sound, rapidly opening and closing successive valves, as if they were tickling their instruments. Underneath this melee were smooth guitar riffs and the poignant thumping of the electric bass.
Such were the sights and sounds before the rehearsal of the College of Pharmacy Jazz Ensemble.
The ensemble was cofounded by pharmacy students Matthew Bertsch and Jared Hatchard. Bertsch and Hatchard grew up in Casa Grande and played music together while attending Central Arizona College. However, finding time to play soon became a challenge.
“We couldn’t commit the time to the music program at the UA,” Hatchard says, “and pharmacy school is also intense.” As a result, they decided to start their own band that plays traditional swing and blues.
Bertsch, the band leader and tenor saxophonist, explains that the main point of the jazz band was to “bring people together who enjoyed playing music.” In a world where groups and memberships tend to isolate people in silos, the band has become a unifying element.
Currently there are 14 active members, most of whom are pharmacy students and one college staff member. The band has even reached beyond the COP borders. The two trumpet players who were running up and down the scales during rehearsals are medical students.
Bertsch and Hatchard cowrite some of the band’s music. This explains the local references of the song titles such as “A Stroll Down Stone” and “Two Steps to Tanque Verde.”
Deep within the band’s DNA is improvisation, a traditional component of jazz music. Bertsch and Hatchard write what are called “head charts.” This is the melody that the entire band plays. From that point, individual musicians take turns playing improvised solos to the same chord progression of the melody. This contributes to the excitement and passion of jazz.
The group debuted earlier at the 2011 International Pharmacists Association dinner. Later in the year, they played at the College of Pharmacy Homecoming Reception.
Check out the band's recent performance at the R. Ken Coit Endowed Chair celebration.
Photo caption: Matthew Bertsch
Story, photos and video by Larry Hogan Jr.