Six people coming together for a common goal is rare enough. For it to happen by chance seems like a one in a million event. But that was exactly the case with the Mocal Grifters.
Those who were there that night can testify to that fact. This happened after a long day of marching band, two weeks before classes started in August. One evening at Ball University’s Schmidt-Wilson Residence Hall, where the marchers lived during the camp, several of the musicians blew themselves out.
Slowly a group began to form. Each night of their program she progressed. They all shared one common interest: jazz music.
Each time they met, they invited different people to play with them, and each new addition brought a different instrument, even a didgeridoo. The idea was born from there: every week this new group of friends would get together to play their favorite music and invite everyone on campus to join them.
The Mocal Grifters are composed of sophomore music performance major Kyle Bux on drums, sophomore psychology major George Trajanoski on tenor saxophone, sophomore jazz major Griffin McAtee on alto saxophone, sophomore music education major Jason Frosh on trumpet, first-year jazz major Nick Angle on piano and sophomore music education major Evan Parent on upright bass. McAtee, who organizes the house band’s “jam sessions” and practices, is the group’s leader.
“It’s a big group effort, I couldn’t have done it without all these guys,” McAtee said. “It’s a big collaborative effort.”
This group originally tried to start these sessions last year, but they didn’t take off. The band members said they were missing a pianist to round out their sound. However, that all changed this year when Angle came along.
Now they’re going strong, playing almost every weekend in the lobby of Schmidt-Wilson and choosing a new band name. The venue for the performances was no accident; they specifically chose the dorm lobby.
“The fine arts dorm brings a lot of people together, so a lot of them haven’t gotten jazz practice or experience,” Frosh said. “They don’t understand the joy of playing that kind of music.”
The Schmidt-Wilson lobby promotes the group’s goals when it comes to running these sessions. These goals include providing a safe place for new musicians to play that is a place for the “under 21’s” to have a “real” jazz jam session. Also, their goal is to introduce new people to jazz and make music with new students to develop their own skills and just have fun.
When it comes to developing your own skills, everyone has their own primary focus. For Engle, it’s learning to be a good soloist. The parent works on communicating with their group mid-song, non-verbally. Frosch’s focus is on self-confidence when it comes to performance.
McAtee works on making music that is not just fun to play, but fun to listen to. Trayanoski discovers traits he has that hinder his development as a musician and works to fix them.
Now they all have seen improvements in hearing each other while playing with one cohesive sound.
The night usually starts with the band playing three of the songs from their repertoire, after which Makati calls one of the “outside” musicians to join them on stage. This new musician “calls out a tune,” meaning he announces which song he wants to perform and the band joins in.
“Each new person adds a different twist to the night,” Trayanoski said.
If you’re wondering why this style of music is significant, the band has an answer based on what it means to them: Jazz is basically a collaboration with other musicians. The genre is also about evoking emotions for which there are no words.
“I can’t make you feel something with my words unless I’m a really good speaker, but I can make you feel something with music if I know what I’m doing,” Trayanoski said.
It relies heavily on the connection one has with one’s band and the ability to be vulnerable with the audience. Self-expression is also a huge part of it.
“When you play, it shows what’s in your soul at that moment. It also tells the story of you and your instrument,” explained McAtee. “If you sound really good, you can say ‘this guy has a story.’ It’s almost like romance.
It sounds simple, but for some people it can actually seem daunting. If that’s what you’re thinking, don’t worry. Mocal Grifters have some tips for you:
- To be calm. This doesn’t just mean controlling your nerves, it also means not getting too excited about the game. You can’t play well if you’re not calm. You have to stay in control. However, this means that you have to be confident in yourself. The same goes for this – don’t get too cocky. As Trajanoski says, “You have to know what you don’t know.”
- Playing alone is different from playing in front of an audience. You may feel like you won’t be scared, but it’s perfectly normal to be a little scared. This is good.
- If you fail, that’s perfectly fine, you just have to keep getting back up.
- Practice, practice and practice some more.
- If you’re not sure where to start, come to a session and listen to other soloists play. Really try to follow and be inspired by your peers.
- Come prepared with a piece you feel comfortable with. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up to feel your nerves, which will increase your chances of getting it wrong.
- If you are still afraid, the group invites you to come and talk to them. They always want to introduce people to jazz.
You can occasionally find them in the Schmidt-Wilson lobby at 7 o’clock on Friday nights, and the group posts about their sessions on Instagram @mocalgrifters. If you find yourself craving authentic jazz music without leaving campus, you know exactly where to go.
Contact ariana lesner with comments at [email protected].