When Weber State University began offering classes in “Jazz Appreciation,” many students enrolled in the course faced a significant challenge to their grades. The course required students to attend live jazz performances.
The only establishments in town that offered regularly occurring jazz performances were bars and clubs. This meant students who were not at least 21 years old, and those who would not enter these establishments for personal or religious reasons, could not meet the class requirements.
In 1998, Caril Jennings, who was the marketing director for the WSU Department of Performing Arts, proposed a solution: the university would invite jazz groups to perform in the Skyroom of the Shepherd Union Building.
However, when the university completed its renovation of the building in 2008, the Skyroom ceased to exist, so the jazz performances moved to the Ogden Union Station.
Jennings and her son, Benjamin, are now the event producers. Jennings believes the move was ultimately a good thing.
“[The Union Station] is bigger. It is more accessible to our all-ages audience,” Jennings said. “We have all ages: old folks, young folks and even babies in buggies.”
An audience of about 120 people gathered in the Union Station’s Grand Lobby on Feb. 12 for a session of “Jazz @ the Station” featuring WSU’s Vocal Jazz Group. Jennifer Erickson, who instructs voice and choir students for the university, directed the group’s performances. Daniel Jonas, the director of the university’s jazz ensembles, was also present.
As the melodies filled the old train station and the rhythm produced its hypnotic effect, many members of the audience began to tap their feet, nod their heads, move their legs or snap their fingers to the beat.
The musical numbers included works from jazz mainstays such as George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and even John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s melancholy “Blackbird.”
Jennings hopes the young and upcoming generation of students will appreciate the experience jazz music has to offer.
“When I get a band down here with a saxophone or a couple of trumpets, kids are really impressed by that,” Jennings said. “The noise and bright instruments, they almost look like jewelry. I want people to bring their kids so they can see live music and grow up with it.”
She admitted that jazz music is not well known or popular among young people. Nevertheless, Jennings believes an appreciation of jazz will help to create a better appreciation of American history and culture.
“It is so typically American,” Jennings said. “It came from here. I am promoting it as part of the American democratic process. Everyone comes with their skills and they pitch in together. They make something that is more than just who they are individually, without losing their individuality.”
Jennings also believes that jazz music’s reliance on improvisation represents social interaction of the highest kind.
“It is also fun for the audience,” Jennings said. “And this way, I get to hear jazz once a month.”
According to WSU music student Audrey Christensen, who was also performing as part of the Vocal Jazz Group, the event was an opportunity for the relatively new group to showcase its talents.
“This is the first time Vocal Jazz has come,” Christensen said. “It is pretty exciting that it gets to be just us. We are new on campus.”
Christensen’s father is a jazz drummer, and she jumped at the chance to join an on-campus jazz group.
Vocal Jazz Group performer and WSU student Becca Schull enjoys any opportunity to share her talent and perform. While Schull’s studies focus on vocal performance for opera, she enjoys singing show tunes, pop songs and jazz.
“I started in jazz at Weber State,” Schull said. “I have loved collaborating with the professors here.”
WSU student McKinzie Robertson was among the audience. Like many WSU students before her, she was attending to fulfill class requirements. While her preferred musical genres are country and 80’s hits, she enjoyed the night’s jazz performance.
“It was great,” Robertson said.
“Jazz @ the Station” is free and takes place at the Union Station on the second Wednesday of each month. Members of the public may donate to the Union Station Foundation at theunionstationfoundation.org.