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UNT’s One O’Clock Lab Band Finding Ways To Swing In Quarantine


by Rob Upchurch 7 May 2020 7:00 AM

Big bands are known for their large ensembles and explosive sound. Now that social distancing keeps these performers from standing shoulder-to-shoulder, we spoke to performers at the University of North Texas to see what it’s like to study jazz during a pandemic.

Andrew Duncan discovered the sound of jazz saxophone in middle school. The Colorado student practiced, performed and set a goal to attend the world-renowned jazz studies program at UNT.

He made it. And his junior year he even snagged a coveted spot in the One O’Clock Lab Band. That’s the school’s top jazz ensemble. It’s been nominated for seven Grammys and is a launching pad for professional musicians.

But now, after years of performing with others, Duncan will graduate as a solo act.

Campus is closed. Courses moved online. And the music school’s many jazz ensembles can’t practice together.

One O’Clock members still meet every Monday, on Zoom. It’s just not the same.

Duncan said meeting over Zoom is only a rough approximation of meeting in-person.

“You’re not getting that same interaction, that same fulfillment of being able to make instantaneous decisions with musicians around you, and which is a big part of what we do,” he said.

Abbi Berry agrees. She the vocalist for the One O’Clock lab band and a senior in the jazz studies program.

“It’s really hard, as someone who’s been performing,” she said. “I didn’t quite realize how much of my, like, normal psyche comes from whatever it is I get from making music in front of or in the company of other people. There’s some kind of validation that I didn’t realize I was getting every day, even if it’s just a rehearsal.”

Professor Alan Baylock directs the One O’Clock Lab Band. He also coordinates jazz groups at UNT, and there are a lot of them — from Latin jazz ensemble to a trombone group. They all give students valuable performing experience, and more.

“All of these large ensembles are really critical for a student’s education, learning not only how to get along on a musical level but on a personal level,” Baylock said. “That’s experience that will set them up for success the rest of their lives.”

Usually, seniors must perform a recital to graduate. But this year, they can’t. Instead, professors assigned individual projects.

Berry focused on her music production skills. Duncan turned to music history, a research project on three baritone saxophone players – Leo Parker, Pepper Adams and Ronnie Cuber.

“They’re three great baritone saxophonists who I felt like I didn’t really listen to while I was in school,” Duncan said. “There is so much music to absorb, and these were people whose names I had kinda heard, and you know, I just decided to make this project about them, so I had an excuse to listen to them for a while.”

The jazz band also canceled its tour, including a stop in Florida after Spring Break. Another bitter disappointment.

But Baylock finds creative ways to tap into the One O’Clock’s fanbase and keep students performing. Abi Berry, the vocalist, appreciates that.

“He instituted a series on Instagram called ‘One by One,’ where each of us just made a video,” she said. The One O’Clock account has 4,000 followers. “So when I posted mine — which was a four-part reharmonization of ‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis and The News — it got, like, so much attention. It was crazy.”

Baylock says the series lets everyone know how special his student musicians are. And just like his students, the professor is missing out on a huge part of his life: “That’s such a big draw and a big part of the gig, seeing that energy and that excitement in their eyes, and watching them grow and develop.”

Baylock hopes for a return to normal – or a new normal – as soon as possible.

And Duncan and Berry? They’re starting their careers as professional musicians, from home.

To view the One by One series, visit @OneOClockLabBand on Instagram. The One O’Clock Lab Band’s music is also available on streaming platforms like Spotify to add a little pizzazz to your work-from-home environment.

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