Each Tuesday evening, a line forms at Clementine Cafe that expands down the sidewalk of South Main Street. JMU jazz combos — ensembles of student musicians — draw in professors, parents, community members and fellow Dukes to watch performances from 7-9 p.m.
As customers trickle in, tables fill with customers bobbing to smooth sounds and snapping to beats created by performers. The jazz music fills the restaurant atmosphere with relaxing tunes to accompany the audience members during their meals. These are nights that Aaron Green, a senior music industry major and jazz minor, describes as “just super fun for us to get the opportunity to play for people.”
The stage is typically set with instruments such as keyboard, guitars, basses, drum kits and brass instruments. An ensemble has around five to six performers, and each set has a different take on jazz.
Some ensembles begin the night with soft, slow sounds unaccompanied by vocals and driven by the full force of a trumpet or trombone. A double bass may maintain the tempo alongside mellow notes on the drums and piano that accentuate the delicate songs with dreamy beats and chords.
Other ensembles begin with upbeat, rich sounds led by vocals and sultry notes from a tenor saxophone, pairing well with the brassy tunes from a trombone. Warm guitar chords mesh perfectly with the deep notes from a bass guitar.
Jesse and Charol Lane — two customers from out of town — stopped by Clementine on November 5th to watch a jazz performance.
“My husband looked online and saw that they had jazz down here,” Charol said. “We were vacationing in Massanutten, so we said, ‘OK, we’re going to go over there and see what's going on with this jazz.’”
The JMU jazz combos didn’t disappoint these visitors.
“It’s been nice — a nice little find,” Jesse said. “The jazz is great. We plan on coming back for open mic night.”
Green, senior jazz studies major Cameron Tran and senior music education major Noah Galbreath all perform on Tuesdays. Galbreath said that being a music major is hard work, since they have many lessons to learn and have to devote a large amount of time to practicing the songs they perform on Tuesdays nights.
“If you practice them in isolation, like in the practice room or during your lesson, then you’re not making music for people,” Galbreath said. “So, we get to come out here and show people what we have been working on.”
The performers said playing at Clementine has helped them expand their skills by learning new material to perform each week and growing more comfortable with performing in front of a live audience.
“I used to have serious performing anxiety in general,” Green said. “But now, it’s like the same thing, different day, just because of this opportunity. I think it made me a better performer.”
“Yeah, I agree with that,” Tran said in response to Green. “We’re all music majors, and we’ve all played gigs before this, but it’s just good to have a consistent schedule and more experience.”
Not only is the partnership an opportunity for student musicians to practice performing in a more casual environment, but it also increases business for Clementine. Hostess Megan Shania is a personal fan of the restaurant’s partnership with JMU’s jazz program.
“It gives Clementine a vibrant vibe,” Shania said. “And it’s nice because it keeps me busy, and it’s cool to have some background music as I work.”
Combo members said they want the performances to continue but in a different way.
“We should have more jam sessions where people just come in to play for fun,” Green said.
Galbreath hopes there’ll be more chances to work and perform with people who aren’t necessarily connected to the combos.
“You don’t have to play jazz,” Galbreath said. “Just come in and jam with us.”
To Galbreath, “that’s what this music is about.”
Contact Diana DeVincent at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.