Music@RushHour showcases Vocal Jazz combos

Five p.m. on Los Angeles roads and highways is a lot of things — none of them good. Anyone who’s driven during rush hour can attest to how stressful it is. That being said, one program at USC is determined to change the bad rap that rush hour gets, instead offering an evening of great music by some of the best artists USC has to offer.

Music@RushHour, organized by student Mak Grgic, a Doctoral student in Classical Guitar, is a series of concerts at USC that aims to give people a relaxing alternative to the stresses of driving on the roads of L.A. during peak rush hour times.

The Vocal Jazz Combo concert, which took place on Wednesday at Simon Ramo Recital Hall, in particular, showcased the talents of two jazz vocal combos.

The first combo, consisting of Marta Olson, Derek Gamlam, Olivia Morreale, Yumi Kim, Suraj Parthasarathy and Andrew Hill performed a mix of original compositions and traditional songs with a contemporary take on them providing a sound that was soothing to the ears. The second combo, made up of Omree Gal-Oz, Sol Was, Kevin Van Der Elzen, Andrew Coba and Kirstin Louie, who is also a photographer for the Daily Trojan, kept the vibe going for the second half of the concert, also performing original and traditional songs with a contemporary twist. It’s often said that jazz is much better live, and these two combos proved how true that sentiment rings; it was easy to see how much ferv the artists played with, and their genuine smiles were as infectious as the rhythm of the music they were making.

It’s especially clear to see the passion with the vocalists of the combos, which, to some, might seem like a rarity in a jazz combo at USC. Adding a vocalist to the combo adds a layer of complexity to the music.

“How they function in a group that’s led by a singer is a little bit different than how they would function in a combo that just was them … because the singer has lyrics,” said Kathleen Grace, director of both combos and a Thornton jazz studies faculty member, “They have this really strong melody combined with this story they have to tell.”

The vocalists were able to tell the stories that the lyrics of the songs were telling, taking the audience away from the intimate setting of the recital hall and into their world.

The group’s performance showcased some of the best jazz USC students have to offer, which is a rarity, according to sophomore narrative studies and music major Olivia Morreale.

“Usually, it’s a classical concert or something else. The jazz vocal combos are one of the few jazz ensembles that perform,” Morreale said.

Music@RushHour offers a number of concerts and performances, jazz being among them. To get more insight on the program, the Daily Trojan was able to ask Grgic and Brian Head, USC Thornton dean of academic programs, a few questions about Music@RushHour.


Daily Trojan: When did this program start?


Brian Head: Music@Noon began in the 1980s as a showcase for Thornton music students to perform for the greater USC community.  The concerts were held at the United University Church and were curated by James Smith, who chaired the classical guitar department until 2010.  Two years ago, the Thornton School decided to shift the time to 5 p.m. and to move it to Ramo Recital Hall, and under the direction of graduate student Mak Grgic the series has gained even more popularity.  The program has been popular among Thornton students and faculty because it showcases students across a number of internal departments and gives them a place to collaborate in innovative ways.


DT: What are you trying to accomplish with this program? What do you hope to get out of it?


Mak Grgic: Music@RushHour is geared mostly by its educational purpose. It is there to encourage our music students to think creatively about programming, choose themes for the events and present them as a showcase of both creativity and skill. In addition, students get a valuable experience of performing for a live audience while being recorded live, which always adds to the pressure. Lastly, the music faculty is encouraged to participate in the selection of their best students for the performances, which contributes to a bit of healthy competition among the student body. My hope in the end is that this series becomes a staple of excellence amongst the students, creativity that reaches beyond borders of mere musical thinking and prominence in a way that people all around campus recognize this series as having a consistent presence. I would like to see the series’ renown continue to grow amongst Thornton body and overall USC community, and continue to be a multi-stylistic Performance Class for all Thornton students.


DT: Who is this program for? Is there a specific audience you’re trying to reach?


MG: First and foremost, Musc@RushHour is here for the students. It is all about them. Whoever we can get excited about attending the events is a welcomed audience member, though we do encourage an educational component in self-marketing. With all the many events going on around town, students have to learn about the pros and cons of self-marketing. In other words, we target audiences through Graduate Student Government, Thornton marketing, flyer distribution around campus and more, but we encourage students who are performing, to participate in the process and learn how it’s done. The most important way of getting people to attend however is by word of mouth. So far, so good — I would hope to see an even bigger response from the overall USC community. Who doesn’t want to hear excellent music for an hour and then get fed — for free?!

DT: Is there anything that you want people to know about Music@RushHour that they likely don’t know already?


MG: Music@RushHour is about presenting music of all kinds and in a fun, relaxed environment. I would like for everyone in the USC community to be aware of this so that when they have some spare time between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., they would consider joining us for a unique experience presented by Thornton’s best students.

Music@RushHour is a great way to spend time listening to intricate sounds that USC students have to offer as opposed to stressing over massive car buildups and stressful situations on L.A. roads during rush hour. Be sure to stop by a performance or two and email for more info.

Correction: A previous version of this article contained a misspelling. It is Kirstin Louie not Kristin Louie. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.