Ball State University Combo Plays “The Egyptian”

Even though I moved here at the beginning of 2020, I still consider myself a newcomer to the Indy music scene, especially when it comes to what is happening at the university level. It was clear to me that some research was in order, and I figured our upcoming masterclass with Mark Buselli and Freddie Mendoza would be the perfect launching point. Click here to register!

My journey started with a Zoom call between me, the specialists planning the event (shoutout to Sean and Josh and all the great work they do), Mark and Freddie. We talked broad strokes about what the masterclass should be about, what gear needed to be set up, and most importantly; what snacks they wanted in their green room.

Then came the topic of how to marketing the event. Step one is to obviously lean into what great musicians Mark and Freddie are. Even as an Indy Outsider, I’d heard the names Freddie Mendoza and Mark Buselli spoken in high regard early in my career at Paige’s, and rightfully so. The first time I heard Freddie play was a tribute to the great J.J. Johnson at the Jazz Kitchen in January of 2022. I’m a sucker for what great trombone players can do over ballads, and his playing on “Lament” was just incredible. Hearing Mark play for the first time was a very similar experience. Again, I’m back at the Jazz Kitchen, but now with the Ball State Jazz Ensemble the night before they left for New York City to play at Dizzy’s. There was a great energy in the room that night that left me reminiscing about my days at Elmhurst College and what it took to put on a performance like that.

Then it hit me: “Why not showcase your students?”

Fast forward back to the Zoom call, I threw out the idea of maybe filming a rehearsal or performance, something low key, a small peek of the work that happens behind the scenes. Mark loved the idea, and a few weeks later I was on campus to observe a combo rehearsal. I’ll cut together some footage the rehearsal at a later point, but off the bat I was incredibly impressed with the autonomy given to these musicians on what to play, and more importantly, how to play it, with Freddie and Mark letting things play out with minimal interjection.  It reminded me of how fun it was to play in situations like this. I was fortunate enough to play in various combos throughout high school and college. Finally, everything came into focus (literally and metaphorically), and I wanted to showcase not only what great educators Mark and Freddie are, and the effect it has on their students. It was a collaborative experience all around, there was never any talk of a “right or wrong” way to do things but rather “hey, I think this might sound cool, let’s give it a shot” to varying degrees of success. There was even a moment where fellow faculty member Sean Imboden (who will also be doing a masterclass here at Paige’s) peeked his head in, drawn to the interplay that was happening between these extremely adept musicians.

My final takeaway: I love what Mark, Freddie, and the rest of the BSU jazz faculty are building, and I want you to experience it too. The short-term goal of this event is to leave with a few more tools in your proverbial tool belt on how to learn tunes, approaching improvisation, reading changes and all that jazz. I’m hoping that in the long goal is to inspire the next generation to take what they learn and to continue fostering a community around this music we love so much.

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