Jazz Night at Books & Brews provides jazz students real-world playing experience

Standing amongst the house band, senior jazz studies major Alex Nativi plays through several jazz standards on his upright bass before audience members are invited to join the band on stage and play during the jam session. Nativi is a member of the University of Indianapolis Jazz Combo I and participated in the UIndy Jazz Combo Night at Books & Brews South Indy on Feb. 6. He said this event provided players and listeners the opportunity to participate in the tradition of jazz music outside of a critical space.

“It’s not really a very cut-throat kind of thing,” Nativi said. “It’s an open space for if people want to play a tune, or if you want to play with the band or play with somebody, you have the opportunity to do that, to participate and to take part in the tradition above all else. It’s a very welcoming environment, comfortable space to play in…. For me, personally, it’s a good space for me to work out some different nuances on my own instrument.”

Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies Mark O’Connor said Jazz Night is an additional opportunity for the Jazz Combos to perform outside of the designated performances in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. He said the event is meant to promote the UIndy Jazz Program, as well as give students the chance to promote, market and perform a gig that is similar to what real world, off-campus performances will be like.

“As much of a privilege it is to perform in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, especially when you’re starting out as a professional musician, very rarely do you actually get a chance to give concerts in such a nice performance space as the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall,” O’Connor said. “It’s more typical to play at jazz clubs, or at restaurants or venues, more like that. And that’s what Books & Brews is—it’s less formal, and yet at the same time, they get that performance experience.”

Co-owner of Books & Brews South Indy Keith Fechtman said this event benefits business for the restaurant, with most customers coming in on Sundays when these events are held. But additionally, the Jazz Night allows for the community to come visit and engage in UIndy jazz and create new experiences without having to go to Downtown Indianapolis.

“It allows the students, the UIndy students, to perform outside of the school realm,” Fechtman said. “It also benefits Books & Brews because we are able to draw in potential new customers from the community that may not have known that we were family-friendly, which is the biggest hurdle that we’ve had to overcome, is UIndy students and the community knowing that we’re all ages here.”

Nativi said that for him, Jazz Night teaches him how to better accompany other musicians and make new connections because of the style of the event. Jazz Night also differs from a typical concert because instead of sitting and listening, the audience gets to interact with the music on a much more personal level, he said. 

“You get to go up on the stage and play with other musicians, and it’s kind of this new feeling or this new way of, it’s a new perspective on the music,” Nativi said. “There’s a whole lot different from just being a listener and just being somebody who’s just absorbing it through your own ears, but when you have the opportunity to share your ideas and share your inspiration and share your experiences through this new medium, it’s a very different experience. And that’s what separates a jam session from just a regular concert that you just go watch.”

Jam sessions like this one are great for students, Nativi said, because it is one of the easiest ways to make connections, work out musicianship and technicalities on the bandstand and figure out where you stand in the moment. Jam sessions provide more experience with the music, and a lot of the educational process happens when you are actually doing it, he said.

“You start to learn, like how to interact with the musicians on the bandstand, you start to learn how to interact with the people that are listening to you, play ideas that compliment the musicians around you, or play ideas that maybe take the music into a different direction,” Nativi said. “You have all these different liberties and all these different opportunities now at your fingertips.”

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