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Joe’s Oasis to bring new rhythm to UCLA campus lunchtimes

Computer science and medicine professor Joe DiStefano is working with ethnomusicology professor Steven Loza to create Joe’s Oasis, a jazz event that aims to bring jazz to UCLA’s community. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)

Joe's Oasis: Inaugural Event

Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center

March 10

12 p.m.

By Marissa Li

March 9, 2022 9:50 p.m.

This post was updated March 9 at 10:34 p.m.

Joe’s Oasis plans to provide a musical respite for the UCLA community.

Joe’s Oasis will be a recurring series of live jazz performances that will begin Thursday. It is organized by the chair of the global jazz studies interdepartmental program and ethnomusicology professor Steven Loza with computer science and medicine professor Joe DiStefano, who is a board member on the jazz student support group Friends of Jazz. The inaugural performance is set to take place throughout lunchtime at the Ostin Outdoor Stage of the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center. For DiStefano, the overarching goal of Joe’s Oasis is to serve the UCLA community.

“The idea became, ‘Let’s do this for the campus,'” DiStefano said. “People at UCLA can be entertained over lunch, and they can learn about what’s happening and the great musicians that are happening in the jazz program.”

DiStefano said his goal is for Joe’s Oasis to occur weekly throughout spring quarter. He plans to select three bands per quarter, with each one performing for three consecutive weeks in order for the students to get as much practice as possible, DiStefano said.

As a student musician throughout high school and college, DiStefano said one of his long-term goals has been to organize a program like Joe’s Oasis. After a donation from one of DiStefano’s former students, DiStefano was able to write the proposal for Joe’s Oasis, which was set aside for some time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

[Related: UCLA’s Jazz Combo Concert showcases student passion, musical growth]

Recently, Joe’s Oasis has gained the support of various organizations, in particular Friends of Jazz and the global jazz studies interdepartmental program, both of which played key roles in supporting the event by providing musicians and funding, DiStefano said. Additionally, musician and alumnus Steve Murillo, who is set to play in the inaugural performance with his band, is in charge of working with the interdepartmental to select students to perform as a part of Joe’s Oasis. Through the series, the interdepartmental program hopes to immerse students in different cultures and learn how these cultures have shaped the world of jazz, Murillo said.

Sheet music for Joe's Oasis contains lyrics corresponding to food and coffee. The event aims to provide additional opportunities for jazz students to perform, similarly to a jazz club, and hopes to present three bands for three weeks apiece in spring quarter. (Courtesy of Kjell Samuelson)
Sheet music for Joe’s Oasis contains lyrics corresponding to food and coffee. The event aims to provide additional opportunities for jazz students to perform, similarly to a jazz club, and hopes to present three bands for three weeks apiece in spring quarter. (Courtesy of Kjell Samuelson)

As part of the interdepartmental program’s faculty, Loza said he also hopes Joe’s Oasis will be able to incorporate the multicultural themes characteristic of the interdepartmental program’s curriculum. Most jazz programs are conservative in that they tend to focus on teaching traditional jazz in forms such as bebop, Loza said. Considering the various cultural influences that have shaped jazz, Loza said it is important to take an international perspective and teach students how different regions’ peoples – such as those of Asian, Latin American and African cultures – have experienced jazz music. Furthermore, it is also crucial to keep the main purpose of jazz in mind, which is the performance itself, Loza said.

“A lot of schools that teach jazz get so hung up on the way that you’re supposed to play it, the rules, that sometimes we forget the jazz is for the public,” Loza said.

[Related: UCLA music students gain traction virtually through TikTok musical covers]

In addition to bringing a multicultural perspective to campus, Joe’s Oasis also aims to be a twist on a jazz club, giving student musicians more opportunities to perform, Loza said. With Joe’s Oasis, Loza also intends for the series to provide students with an opportunity to explore nontraditional, international jazz music in their set lists.

“These students are not going to be able to just go out and play jazz clubs – there’s not enough of them,” Loza said. “(Joe’s Oasis) is a way for them to be creative in the type of performance that they present to their colleagues on campus.”

While serving music students, Joe’s Oasis encourages DiStefano and Loza to showcase a music genre they both care about, DiStefano said. There are faculty and students who may wonder why music matters so much, DiStefano said, and simply put, he is passionate about jazz, similar to any academic subject like computer science or medicine.

DiStefano said he has often witnessed a general lack of enthusiasm for jazz music among many Angelenos compared to his New York City background. Thus, he said one of his goals for Joe’s Oasis is to spark an interest in jazz among students and faculty. It is important to recognize the role of art in building community, especially when it tends to be overshadowed by other subjects, Loza said.

“None of us question the importance of computer science, mathematics, engineering, law or medicine,” Loza said. “But when it comes to the arts, many people seem to think it’s an extra, and it’s not. It’s central.”

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