Jazz Ensemble

Members of the UCSB Jazz Ensemble
Photo Credit: Rob Hoffman


To create opportunities, connections, and shared experiences to understand

and respect jazz tradition, develop authenticity and innovation, and learn

musical and interpersonal skills for a lifetime of music making.


Honesty • Integrity • Communication • Empathy 

PERFORMERS’ keywords

Responsibility • Trust • Intention • Progress • Discipline


About the ensemble:

The UCSB Jazz Ensemble community features instruction, rehearsal and performance in both large and small ensembles including combos, medium sized bands (6-8 horns and rhythm section), and standard and extended big band (5 saxes, 4-5 trumpets, 3-5 trombones, piano, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and added woodwinds and brass). Generally the Fall quarters will include the most opportunities for jazz performance at UCSB, where traditionally we offer a “Jazz Lab” section that invites less experienced musicians to learn about jazz theory/improvisation, small group performance techniques and expectations, and basically offers the building blocks of information and experience for anyone to succeed as a jazz improviser and performer, from beginning to advanced levels.

In the 2022-23 academic year, the UCSB Jazz Ensemble and Combos performed extensively on campus and in the Santa Barbara area. These included performances in the UCEN Hub, for Parents/Family Weekend, at SOHO Music Club for the Santa Barbara Jazz Society, at the La Colina Junior High School Jazz Festival, the Dos Pueblos High School Choirs Concert, in the Music Department’s Music Bowl, for UCSB’s Open House Weekend, for the Pardall Carnival in Isla Vista, and presented three official quarterly concerts in Lotte Lehmann concert hall, one of which was dedicated to “Women in Jazz” and featured guest artist Barbara Laronga (trumpet). A highlight of the year was a Fall quarter collaboration with the student-run UCSB Pop’s Orchestra on a concert called “Seasons”, where we performed both alone and with the orchestra in music dedicated to the different seasons of the year, including jazz-style Christmas music such as “Jingle Bells”, “Winter Wonderland”, “The Dreidel Song”, and Vulfpeck’s “Christmas in LA”. 

Performing this music is the point of learning it, and we intend to perform as much as is possible in the coming academic year, with plans for multiple guest artist visits and a Spring Quarter trip to a prestigious California jazz festival/competition. This is in addition to the formal and informal performances we already plan, and intend to continue to expand on the vibrant and diverse jazz community at UCSB. 

To continue or get started with the UCSB Jazz Ensemble please submit the following Google Forms:

  1. JAZZ ENSEMBLE REGISTRATION Google Form (new students only)





Fall 2023 Audition Information

New AND returning students should submit the above forms before scheduling an audition or attending the first class meeting. The Fall quarter unfolds quickly, and there is a fair amount of competition for inclusion in this program (there are roughly 50 students returning to the program next year). Be advised that much jazz ensemble placement is done BEFORE the first class meeting, and failure to be in touch with the director in advance MAY result in a failure to be placed. DO NOT wait until the first class meeting to submit information or indicate interest/intention to audition or participate.

Auditions for the UCSB Jazz Ensemble consist of the following:

BIG BAND or other NON-COMBO ensembles: Placement in these ensembles (Big band, Small Band (3 saxes, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, rhythm), or Aldcroft Ensemble (2 saxophones, 2 trumpets, 2 trombone, rhythm) is by invitation (many ensemble members are returning) and audition. Such ensembles are formed by student demand and rehearsal room availability, as this coming year we will be somewhat crunched for space due to a building seismic retrofit. To audition for these more reading-based ensembles, learn the provided material (recordings will be provided for your learning assistance) and schedule a 1-1 audition with ensemble director Jon Nathan (jazzjon@ucsb.edu). 

Materials for Fall 2023 auditions can be found here (by July 1, 2023): 


The BIG BAND evaluation will consist of the following:

  1. Learn the above provided part from an arrangement/composition to be performed in the coming academic quarter
  2. Sight read a part from the standard jazz ensemble/big band repertoire
  3. Improvise over your preferred set of changes (blues or standard) - optional
  4. Pianists and guitarists should be able to perform provided material and sight-read written chords, chord symbols, and other standard notation
  5. Bassists should be able to both play provided written parts and create bass lines from written chord symbols
  6. Drummers should be able to prepare and play the provided part, demonstrate sight reading ability, and demonstrate stylistic knowledge typical for standard big band and combo performance, including rock, Latin, and swing styles in different time signatures, and the ability to trade 4’s with yourself (4 bars time, 4 bars solo). 

COMBOS, including the entry-level JAZZ LAB combo, are populated on a first come- first serve basis, indicated by interest on your submitted Google forms and a successful audition/evaluation. Every effort will be made to place all interested and qualified applicants, but no guarantees can be made. The scheduling of combos is complex and dependent on YOUR availability.  

The Combos audition/evaluation will consist of the following (except drummers):

  1. *Demonstrate knowledge of all 12 major scales, both playing wise and spelling notes wise
  2. *Show an understanding of the circle of 5ths
  3. *Demonstrate knowledge of all 12 major and minor triads, both playing-wise and spelling notes wise
  4. Improvise over a Blues (changes provided) and over Blue Bossa (C minor)
  5. Pianists, bassists, and guitarists should demonstrate the ability to comp the above provided changes (Blues and Blue Bossa) as well as solo. 
  6. Drummers should demonstrate the ability to keep time in a variety of styles,  including rock, Latin, and swing styles in different time signatures, as well as demonstrate the ability to trade 4’s with yourself (4 bars time, 4 bars solo). 
  7.  Vocalists should be prepared to sing a JAZZ style tune of their choice. Please know your key, and if not be prepared to sing a cappella. 
  8.  Vocalists and drummers will demonstrate ability to play bass notes in time with either a metronome on 2 and 4, or snapping fingers, tapping time on 2 and 4, to the tune “East of the Sun”. Lead sheet is provided. Play the bass note on piano at the beginning of each bar, or on beat 1 or 3 depending if 2 chords per bar. This demonstrates both an ability to play notes on the piano and to keep track of the harmonic rhythm of the tune. Singing the melody is encouraged but optional. 

You should have and be able to use the app IREAL Pro for the above changes (#4). 

Due to the importance of knowing your major scales, understanding the circle of 5ths, and knowing your major and minor triads, I will be unlikely to accept any students who cannot demonstrate #1-3 above (*). However, this should NOT deter you from discussing your unique situation and experience with me, as this music is complex and skill sets come in many forms. However, there are ample resources online for self-education if you are not currently capable of the above, and there is no reason to NOT be able to demonstrate these skills as they will be used in this class. These expected skills are the BEGINNING of the journey in jazz improvisation - not the end.