The question, “Is jazz dead?” is not a new one. As new styles have come to replace older ones, the genre has slowly faded in recent decades. Inspired by Director of Instrumental Music at Hopkins Junior High School Gregory Conway, who wished for his students to keep their tight-knit friendships, MSJ Juniors Stanley Luo and Joshua Shi founded Gregory’s Big Band, a local jazz ensemble, in 2018 to spread their passion for jazz to those around them as well as to stay with their Hopkins Jazz Ensemble bandmates as a group of musicians.
Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, Gregory’s Big Band would regularly meet up in Drummer Junior Tarun Anupindi’s garage, typically using a single metronome to keep the rhythm. They primarily participated at the FUSD talent shows and performed for school events and homeless shelters.
Before COVID-19, Gregory’s Big Band, with over nine members, would rehearse in their garage with one metronome to keep the beat.
With the shift to online practices, the band found themselves in uncharted territory as they had not prepared to practice or perform online. Members had to practice asynchronously by listening to pre-made MP3 files and then send their recordings to Luo. However, the pandemic’s restrictions did not stop them.
“I would say that our first performance was an absolute wreck because we [were] really unfamiliar with recording our instruments separately … but now that it’s our third time working [virtually,] it’s much smoother,” Anupindi said.
The band hosts virtual concerts for the Masonic Homes of California.
Accustomed to using editing software now, Luo, along with Audio Editor Juniors Kaushik Muthukrishnan, uses the apps Audacity and Final Cut Pro to edit all their recordings together.
“A positive from using media is that if you make a little mistake in your note or rhythm, we can edit it; we actually do that quite a lot. When we’re [doing] live performances, there’s no way to do that,” Luo said.
After the entire process, from choosing songs to putting a video together, is done, Luo uploads the videos onto his YouTube channel and sends them to Masonic Homes of California, a senior center they have recently been doing virtual concerts for.
For their July concert, the band opened with “The Duke,” originally performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
The band also participated in MSJ Impromptu’s 2020-2021 Christmas Concert to expand their outreach. With their upcoming mid-March concert, they are planning to share their video with as many organizations as possible, such as the district, the Multicultural Week planning committee, and MSJ Impromptu, especially considering how Luo said that this performance is the “best one yet, in terms of music and video aesthetics.”
Gregory’s Big Band performs at the FUSD talent show in 2018.
In regards to the future, Gregory’s Big Band has expressed interest in branching out to perform for other Bay Area communities outside of Fremont. While the band’s upcoming goals include performing more often and increasing publicity, Luo notes that “the group is just a family of students who want to have fun and play jazz together.”
Gregory’s Big Band is also slotted to perform at MSJ Impromptu’s upcoming March concert.
Cover image by A&E Editor Megh Basu