The Groningen Student Big Band, led by Kristin McGee, is a student group that began in 2013 to provide local students the opportunity to play in a high quality jazz ensemble. In the winter of 2013, local student and saxophonist Amber Krake approached Dr. Kristin McGee (Professor of Jazz and Popular Music at the University of Groningen) about starting such a group. After several rounds of auditions, the best student musicians from the University of Groningen and the Prince Claus Conservatory were chosen. They quickly began weekly rehearsals in the Spring of 2013 which led to many fine performances and musical opportunities.
In May 2013, the band began rehearsing in the Muziekschool in Groningen, where they progressed rather quickly. The enthusiasm and high skill level of student participants led to the development of a semi-professional band. For the first two years, the band rehearsed weekly, which entailed not only rigorous rehearsals but informal socializing and camaraderie. After rehearsals, students often share a drink in town, visit local jam sessions or enjoy a pizza with the group. Since November of 2015, the group began rehearsing in the newly renovated University College on Wednesday evenings from 19:00 to 21:00. This is a great space for making music and having fun. It is also centrally located.
Plans for the future
Currently, we are preparing for our Spring concerts, including the annual Swing at the Silo dance events in April and May and our Spring concert in the charming Platform Theater in Groningen. We also plan to do an exchange with a Swedish big band as well as travel to Brussels in 2017. The band prides itself on preparing unusual and thematic events. Some of these include our past Crime Jazz film evening at USVA, our Big Band Pop Special concert featuring many of the best local Groningen vocalists and the swing dance events with the dance school Lets Swing. The group also performs for students dances, parties and weddings as well as for corporate and university events such as the yearly New Years Eve Borrel (drinks). Many of our future events will combine various art forms including MCing, dance, film and the visual arts. This way, we hope to stimulate interaction between professional and semi-professional musicians with artists from other disciplines. We also want to cultivate opportunities for people to come together who are especially fond of the arts and music. Finally, the band is keen to stimulate more interaction between Dutch and international students. We have especially enjoyed the intercultural musical engagement with students from Korea, Japan, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Romania and Russia. There are many international students in Groningen, but finding opportunities to meet and socialize with young Dutch people can be difficult. Fortunately, jazz music provides a wonderful forum for expressing oneself and interacting across cultural borders.
Background on big band music
The standard 17-piece instrumentation is what makes a big band distinctive. This configuration developed in the late 1920s and early 1930s with famous American bands including those of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Ina Ray Hutton and many others. Typically big bands feature five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones and a rhythm section. The rhythm section is the core of the group consisting of drums, acoustic bass, piano and guitar. Sometimes percussion is also added, especially in Afro-Cuban genres.
Since the onset of jazz as a dynamic and culturally rooted musical form within African American culture, and especially after the the so-called Jazz Age and later the Swing Era, big bands became extremely popular for various cultural and racial groups within the US and abroad. Swing and hot jazz instigated dance rages and led to the wide-spread international popularity of this musical form. Jazz music became standard for various dances including the Charleston, the Lindy Hop and the Jive. Not only was swing music suitable for big bands, big band music ensembles later adopted different styles of music from the orchestral arrangements of the crooners, to the space age, bachelor pad, lounge music of the 1950s and to television crime shows and feature Hollywood films of the 2000s.
Inspired by this rich tradition, the Groningen Student Big Band features a variety of repertoire from the 1920s to the present. We perform styles ranging from New Orleans jazz, to swing, bossa nova, pop and funk. We also perform thematic concerts which delve more deeply into one particular style or cultural phenomena related to jazz’s development. We hope to see YOU at our upcoming gigs!