Each concert-goer entering the Carson Center is different from the one before. A female student athlete, well over 6 feet tall, places her backpack next to an older, gray-haired couple who turn to smile and greet her. The crowd is mixed with students, adults and alumni, each representing facets of the larger USC community. As the performers take their places and the audience members store away their smartphones, suddenly these differences don’t seem so apparent. Everyone in the audience eagerly awaits the start of the show, a performance put on by the USC Thornton Concert Jazz Orchestra.
At the helm is Jason Goldman, an acclaimed producer and arranger at the USC Thornton School of Music. Goldman has previously worked with industry giants such as Michael Bublé. Currently, he teaches large ensembles as well as private instructional courses within the jazz department.
“I’ve really challenged this ensemble with a different task,” Goldman said. “I’ve asked them each to deconstruct the classical tunes of the ’20s and ’30s, adding a contemporary spin,” Goldman said.
Goldman opened the night with a lighthearted joke, asking the crowd, “Do I look like Elvis?” The short-statured man went on to share that the old swing tunes of the night were all student and graduate pieces, further highlighting Thornton’s talent.
Opening with a rendition of Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump,” the 18-person ensemble delighted the crowd with a vibrant tune. Each member, intently reading the music sheets propped on stands before them, cracked smiles in between playing their respective instruments.
“The set-up of tonight’s show is truly a reimagining of classical swing dance,” said Jordan Wainright, a senior majoring in trombone at Thornton. “Each piece is danceable, lighthearted and fun to perform.”
Wainright and her fellow performers have spent four weeks preparing for this concert. The senior said she enjoys being a part of this niche in the USC community because it “welcomes students of various musical backgrounds.” She has been able to meet other musicians who inspire and introduce her to new sounds and opportunities within the industry.
While jazz music may seem niche, Wainright says the ensemble even has an aerospace engineering major. In addition to a variety of majors, the ensemble encourages students of all musical levels to audition. The only criteria to join are the ability to stay on tempo and solid improv skills.
Wainright believes that the camaraderie shared between performers is what makes the group unique. Reflecting on her time at USC, Wainright said that some of her favorite memories have been performing with the jazz ensemble for audience members in Ground Zero. While the Ground Zero performances are on a brief hiatus as the space undergoes renovations, the ensemble is pleased with the Carson Center’s ambiance and arrangement.
The USC Thornton Concert Jazz Orchestra hosts a number of free concerts throughout the year, providing musicians with platforms to express their love of jazz for an audience eager to meander back in musical history.