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Stanford Jazz Combos

2017 spring jazz combo concert

2017 Spring Combo Concert

All musicians with an interest in jazz are invited to audition for the jazz combo program. Participants receive some coaching from professional jazz players and have access to Department of Music rehearsal space, equipment (drums, amps, etc.) and music (Stanford Jazz Workshop sheet music and fakebooks). Combos perform at the end of each quarter. Some groups play gigs in the community (optional).

Interested in playing in a jazz combo?

There are three paths into the program:

A.    Auditions – for new people and returning players who were not active in the program last year
B.    Pre-formed group – for self-organizing returning players
C.    Jazz Skills Combo – an entry level group offered only in Autumn Quarter

Each of the three paths are explained in greater detail below.

Playing interactive music in a jazz combo is a wonderful thing to do, though there are a few responsibilities and requirements to consider.

Before applying, read the Basic Information for Jazz Combos (below) to make sure the program works for you.

Depending on your schedule and level of jazz experience, you may fit into one of the beginning, intermediate or advanced groups that are typically formed in the fall. We need to try to find the best spot for you.

Placement in a group depends primarily on the demands of instrumental balance and the availability of a match for you with others who are at a similar experience level and who are all able to rehearse at the same time and when coaching is available. Most rehearsals are on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Preference will be given to music majors and minors, those participating in other jazz courses, and students who are concurrently taking jazz private lessons. If you cannot immediately be placed in a group, a spot may open up or a new group may form in a subsequent quarter. In autumn quarter only you may choose to participate in the Jazz Skills Combo.

How to join the jazz combo program

Read the information below, and then fill out the Jazz Combo Form 2021 at

Submitting this form will open further audition instructions which, if applicable, you will need to complete by 6pm on Tuesday September 21, 2021.

Not everyone needs to audition and there are different audition procedures depending on your instrument and other factors.

Auditions allow some students to demonstrate their experience level, which can be a key ingredient in finding a match with a combo.

Auditions are not required to join the Jazz Skills combo. Otherwise, auditions are required for all new students as well as returning students who have been inactive for a while or want to play a new instrument in combo. Auditions are optional for everyone else.

EVERYONE must complete the Jazz Combo Form 2021. You will be excused from auditions if:

1. you are part of a pre-formed group and have played in the combo program in the past

2. you participated in Music 181 combos last year (2020-2021 academic year) as part of the Jazz Skills Group or in a JackTrip jazz combo

3. you previously uploaded tracks sometime in the last two years that include you improvising as part of the jazz combo recording project

4. you want to join the Jazz Skills combo

If you are excused from auditions you are nonetheless welcome to audition if you feel that your playing has changed markedly over the past year.

To audition on more than one instrument or to be considered on an instrument that you haven’t played before in a Stanford combo, please follow the regular audition process as appropriate and also send a note to explaining your situation, preference, etc.

A. How to audition for combo

There are different audition processes depending on whether you play a rhythm section instrument or a single line instrument. Rhythm section players (piano, guitar, bass, drums) will audition live at 6pm on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Wind and string players must submit an audition recording by 6pm on September 21, 2021.

Detailed information about the audition process is available via the Jazz Combo Form 2021.

B. Pre-Formed Groups

Pre-forming a group can be an option for returning players who know they want to form a group and play together. If you have participated in jazz combos at Stanford in the past and are a member of a pre-formed ensemble, you do not need to audition.

  1. Each person should fill out the Jazz Combo Form 2021, no need to audition.
  2. The group should designate one member to be the Administrative Leader, who should contact Jim Nadel by 6pm Tuesday, September 21 and let him know your intentions and rehearsal preferences. The sooner you do, the better the chances of getting your group’s preferred rehearsal day/time. (Note: if you update the google form after September 20, 2021 you should also email so that the organizers will know that there has been a change).

Because of limited resources, not all groups can be accepted. You may be asked to modify your group, or include an additional player. Jazz combos typically include three to eight players.

C. Jazz Skills Combo

During Autumn Quarter only there will be an entry-level jazz skills combo. No audition is required and no prior jazz experience is necessary, though students must know all 12 major scales and have a basic knowledge of a musical instrument (which normally requires at least 18 months of study). Preference will be given to students who have taken or are enrolled in MUSIC 20A.

The jazz skills combo will meet either on Tuesdays noon to 1:00pm in Braun Music Center beginning on September 28, 2021, or on another day and time TBD.

Fill out the Jazz Combo Form 2021 and after school starts you will be contacted about the first meeting. Bring your instrument, though we'll provide piano, amps and drums as needed (drummers should bring own sticks).

Basic Information for Jazz Combos (MUSIC 181)


Basic knowledge of an instrument (including all 12 major scales) and some improvisation and jazz listening experience.

Requirements and Grading

Jazz Combos rehearse weekly at a scheduled time. Each quarter, each combo member is expected to:

  1. register for one or zero units,
  2. attend weekly rehearsals,
  3. attend end of quarter combo performances and review at least one group,
  4. attend one of the combo masterclasses, and one or more CoHo open jam sessions,
  5. help with jazz combo production tasks
  6. submit a very brief report by email at the end of quarter.

More details on these requirements below.

1. Students must register for 1 unit or use Zero Unit Enrollment

All Stanford students playing in Department of Music ensembles are required to register in Axess. If you are unable to enroll due to the unit limits of your major or advanced degree program, you should enroll in the zero-unit version. When combo personnel are finalized, a permission number will be emailed to you for enrollment. More information about  Zero Unit Enrollment here:

2. Attendance counts

Weekly participation is important; we can’t cancel rehearsal every time someone in the group has a midterm or paper due, so if you cannot commit to attending every week, please do not get involved. Of course if you become ill, do not attend rehearsal. Please notify your group and, if a substitute is needed that the group is unable to arrange for, notify ASAP. With enough lead time, it is sometimes possible for staff to arrange for one. Regardless, the group should rehearse.

The grade you receive at the end of the quarter will mostly be based on your attendance, commitment and teamwork. Students who fully participate can expect to receive an A, Credit or Satisfactory.

3. Required attendance on performance dates

Combos perform at the end of each quarter and everyone is required to attend whether to perform with your group and/or provide peer to peer written feedback for at least one other group. (Talk with Jim Nadel in advance if there is a scheduling issue.)

2021-2022 performance dates are:

AUTUMN: Mondays, November 15 and 29, 2021 (CoHo)

WINTER: Mondays, February 28 and March 7, 2021 (CoHo)

SPRING: Friday, May 20, 2021 (Campbell Recital Hall, Braun Music Center) and Monday, May 23, 2021 (CoHo)

4. Combo Masterclasses and CoHo jam sessions

Each combo member is expected to participate in at least one Combo Masterclass (dates TBA). Each combo member must also attend one Monday night CoHo open jam session during the quarter to sit-in and/or listen. If you cannot do this, contact Jim Nadel for an alternative activity.

5. Final wrap up report

At the end of each quarter, in order to receive a grade you will need to send an email to Jim Nadel ( briefly summarizing what you accomplished in combo during the quarter. (Two or three sentences is fine).

6. Security and care for equipment

Students must respect Department of Music facilities and equipment and agree to follow the appropriate procedures to ensure that equipment remains safe, in good working order, and available as needed for all those sharing it.

7. Equipment access

It is advisable for the drummer and another member of your group to have access to the ground floor equipment lockers and/or Practice Module 13 in Room 206, Braun Music Center. This equipment and rehearsal space is available for jazz use only. To obtain access, contact Jim Nadel, who will connect you with the Department of Music office, which oversees and controls access.


Combo Formation

A Note to Instrumentalists:

Our goal is to get as many people playing as possible, and as you might imagine, this requires a complex scheduling effort to put together compatible combinations and set up rehearsal times when coaching is available. The system favors people who know their schedule and who play an “in-demand” instrument (typically bass or drums) or who play a single line instrument (woodwind, brass, strings). While there can often be multiple single line instruments in a group, having multiple chordal instruments in a group can be problematic.

A Note to Vocalists:

Vocalists who are able to improvise through chord changes and can function like another instrumentalist in the group are welcome to participate. This usually requires an excellent ear and knowledge of basic jazz harmony. Just follow the regular audition process for wind instruments.

Questions and Contacts:

Combo questions? Contact Jim Nadel:

Next step: complete Jazz Combo Form 2021

Other Jazz Ensembles contacts: