Off with a Bang! Big Band Debuts at SFCM

Rjam, big band, sfcm, performance, music students

The SFCM Big Band Ensemble performing at their December concert inside the Barbro Osher Recital Hall in the Bowes Center.

Big Band is about to swing across the finish line for its first semester at SFCM. Students share what they’ve learned, and instructors share what’s next.

By Mark Taylor

One new ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music has students more than jazzed about being a part of its inaugural semester. It’s called Big Band. The Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) ensemble pulls nearly a dozen different instruments together to take on music many have never played before, “It feels like I came to SFCM at the perfect timing! I'm really glad to be part of this group and have the opportunity to play outside of the classical repertoire,” Tsukimi Sakamoto-David said. The trombone graduate student is in her first semester studying with Timothy Higgins, and is not in the RJAM program, but believes Big Band has helped her fall even more in love with her instrument, “I started playing the trombone after watching a movie on swing music called Swing Girls. Even though I'm now studying classical performance, to be able to play the music that first got me playing the trombone is a great feeling. It's just purely fun," she added. 

Jazz may be called America’s one true art form, but according to the Executive Director of the RJAM program Jason Hainsworth, Big Band can be called the creator of modern day pop music, “Big Bands paved the way for modern day pop music. Their leaders, composers, frontmen and women were the pop stars of their day,” said Hainsworth, citing stars like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Goodman. The ensemble consists of saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section, “It has been really great to see all the students from different departments come together and develop a shared sound,” Hainsworth continued, “Only 3 weeks after the beginning of the school year, we pulled off an album release party with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown that went incredibly well. Everyone did an amazing job, starting with the students all the way to the Technology and Applied Composition team that did the live-recording as well as the production team at SFCM.” 

Being exposed to the Big Band sound is something Hainsworth believes is invaluable for any musician, “It’s particularly enriching for students who primarily study classical or popular electronic music,” Hainsworth added, “Broadening horizons and learning about the history is part of what makes SFCM such a fun place to learn and teach.”

For student members like piano player Jose Vargas it's helping him become a better musician, “In my opinion it's necessary enrichment for every musician to delve into and learn from music from as wide a range as possible,” Vargas said. The second year undergraduate student is studying composition with David Conte but has loved and played jazz since high school, “My favorite part of Big Band is the communal experience. Being in the pocket in a band feels like being part of a greater organism. It is a completely novel experience of being out-of-body, yet absolutely present and in the moment,” Vargas added.

As for what’s next for Big Band, Hainsworth has high hopes for its future as it grows in popularity, and in doing so, grows the talent of the different musicians involved, “It's a great vehicle for composers to stretch and explore all the different sounds and sound-combinations that are possible, so I think the future looks bright for Big Band, particularly at SFCM!” Hainsworth said. 

Learn more about studying Roots, Jazz, and American Music at SFCM.