By Abby Morris ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer

Jazz combo members rehearse in front of Sloan Music Center. Photo by Eric Keith. 

Ethan Clark ‘24 is a first year from Richmond, VA and a member of Davidson’s Jazz Ensemble. In a conversation with The Davidsonian, the percussionist described his musical background, his experience in the ensemble thus far, and COVID’s impact on the music program. Ethan’s insight displayed both his personal passion for music and the impressive commitment of Davidson musicians and instructors to making Jazz Ensemble happen despite numerous obstacles imposed by the pandemic.* 

Abby Morris: Let’s start off by talking about your musical background. What instruments do you play, and how long have you been playing them? 

Ethan Clark: Okay, so I’ve played piano for about ten years and drums for just about as long. And then in high school, I was in the concert band, so I learned how to play a bunch of different percussion instruments. […] I played in concert band, marching band, and I was in the drumline. And I took piano lessons. No drum lessons, though, just band in school. So that’s my background. 

AM: Cool. You mentioned you were part of a concert band; is that different from a jazz ensemble? 

EC: Yeah, it is different from a jazz ensemble. But I did play a couple of jazz songs. And I [was part of] a percussion ensemble that was sometimes a jazz ensemble. So, it’s kind of similar. I played similar parts to what I would have played in a jazz band. 

AM: Nice. So, as a first year, how has your transition to college-level music been? 

EC: Oh, it’s been great. It’s been a challenge, but a good challenge. […] I’m taking a music history class, which is great. I’m learning so much about jazz. I’m learning how to play jazz. It’s just been a great, immersive experience. Music is everywhere here, and it’s great. 

AM: What’s a typical jazz rehearsal like this semester? 

EC: When we started out, we were doing recordings for what [the jazz band] started last semester, but they couldn’t get done because of COVID, because everybody left. There are big band things. [We’re in small groups] because we can’t all practice together [and] each of the jazz combos got two songs to play. And we played the two songs, and we recorded them. So that was the first half of rehearsal, then the second half is the combo part. We’re focusing on music where it’s just us four. So that’s fun. That’s my favorite part; it’s really chill. 

AM: What pieces are you guys playing? 

EC: For the combo part, we get a new piece every day. They’re just jazz sheets, and you can kind of just play them, and then you can play them again, and it’ll sound different. We get one of those each time. For the big bands, we’ve only played two songs so far. We played “I Get a Kick out of You,” which is a Frank Sinatra version. And then “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” which is a jazz standard, but it’s famous because of Doris Day and Ella Fitzgerald. So we played that. And now we’re transitioning into another part of big band music, but for the combo, we’re getting a new [piece] every day. So that’s fun. 

AM: What kind of COVID-related protocols have been put in place for rehearsals?  

EC: Normally, as a big band, we would meet together, like, probably 13 of us. We would all meet together in one rehearsal and play together, because it’s a big band, right? But because of COVID, we can’t do that. We can have max four people. And we can’t practice in Sloan, we have to practice outside. That’s fun. I love being outside. But yeah, we practice outside, only us four. We have to split [the groups] into, like, three different time slots. And then when it rains, we have to go inside Sloan, and there our practice is shortened because we have to clear the air out between each rehearsal. So that’s the COVID stuff. Oh, and woodwind and brass players have to wear special masks that open so that they can play their instrument and keep a mask on. Oh my god, I think it’s just crazy. But they do it. And it’s an adventure for sure. 

AM: Yeah, that sounds hard. Is jazz band planning on having any performances or concerts this semester?  

EC: I do think that we may be looking at-–maybe not this semester, but the spring semester-–doing concerts outside on the lawn. They used to have those all the time, and then now because of COVID they didn’t get to have them [last] spring or this semester. I think they’re looking forward to doing that. Nothing’s confirmed yet, though, so I don’t want to say anything’s happening for sure. But you basically get a mini concert every day [we practice] because we’re outside playing. People walk by, and they hear the music. It’s great. 

*This interview has been edited for the purposes of length and clarity.