Nate Schwartz is a certified audio engineer at Melnitz Hall, a member of multiple bands including UCLA’s Loop Garou, and a composer of film scores. But in 2014, he decided to take on another endeavor: start his own jazz orchestra.
The rising third-year ethnomusicology student with a concentration in jazz recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the 23-person orchestra’s debut album, “Explorations,” to be tentatively released in mid-November.
Schwartz initiated the Kickstarter campaign for the orchestra, named Nate Schwartz & His Jazz Orchestra, with a goal of $10,000 to fund rehearsal space, recording equipment and a sound engineer for the orchestra and to make physical copies of the album. After nearly two weeks of launching the campaign, Schwartz said it is on track to meeting the goal, having almost reached half of the $10,000 target.
Interested in performing shows, Schwartz said he formed the group with his friends from the ethnomusicology department. Then, they were unexpectedly chosen to headline the World Music and Movement Festival in November 2014.
Since then, the jazz orchestra grew to an ensemble of 23 musicians from Los Angeles, including Schwartz’s friends and peers from the ethnomusicology department as well as professional musicians.
“That’s kind of the thing with a big band or a jazz orchestra – the personnel is fluid,” Schwartz said.
From there, Schwartz decided to set a goal of recording an album.
Schwartz, who also plays guitar for the UCLA-based band Loop Garou, said because he has no one to bounce his ideas off of in his jazz orchestra, writing music for the jazz orchestra involved self-reflection.
“I’m kind of exploring my own musical voice at this point because all my other experiences at UCLA writing music have been with other people,” Schwartz said.
Although Schwartz writes all the music for the group, the album’s introduction and seven songs, including a slow, classic jazz ballad sung and composed by Loop Garou bandmate and a cognitive science alumnus Nick Valentini, each have slightly different sounds.
“I’m really into (fusion) so there are two or three songs that are fusion influenced,” Schwartz said. “There’s one that’s a pretty swinging, classic big band and there’s a couple of hip hop ones.”
Zach Ramacier, a music performance alumnus and a trumpet player in the jazz orchestra, said the music style can be described, overall, as contemporary. One song is hip-hop influenced and will feature a rapper.
“There’s not a lot of music like it. It’s very rock-influenced,” Ramacier said. “With jazz, it’s kind of like swing and laid-back, but this is very intense and in-your-face music.”
Although Schwartz writes the songs, he said he leaves room for the soloists to improvise and create their own solos during rehearsal.
Hugo Shiboski, a rising third-year ethnomusicology student with a concentration in jazz studies who plays the tenor saxophone in the orchestra, said that rehearsals are fun yet productive.
“It’s an awesome vibe because we’re all in the same age group and we’re all great friends,” Shiboski said. “We manage to keep it professional while also being able to communicate and keep some humor in there.”
However, Schwartz said coordinating rehearsal times and space for 23 musicians was a challenge.
“I’m really impressed that Nate is able to pull all of this together,” Shiboski said. “It can be really hard to get everyone together.”
Schwartz said that most people grew up playing in big band, making directing the jazz orchestra a nostalgic and fun challenge.
Nevertheless, the members’ similar passion for music and performing makes the project exciting, Schwartz said.
“That’s how you make a great record: you get all your homies together and you all strive for a common vision,” Schwartz said.