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University of Missouri

A Love Supreme

School of Music students jazz up the joint.

four-piece jazz band plays on dark stage

From left: MU School of Music students Sam Copeland, Chad Tucker, Meredith Hammer and Walt Beeson perform during a jazz jam session at The Bridge in Columbia. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

From the darkened depths up center stage, beams of bluish light mingle with the swishing drum brush before glancing off the saxophone’s brass. Just as the bar’s clinking hubbub subsides, Sam Copeland’s peripheral baseline submits to Meredith Hammer’s subtle inhale as she leans into a cool trumpet riff.

Hammer climbs and tumbles through the scales, adding soulful, applause-inspiring flourishes. All that’s missing from this quintessential jazz scene is a cigarette haze above the audience.

Of course, smoking isn’t permitted inside The Bridge at 1020 E. Walnut St., one of Columbia’s live venues where School of Music students frequently perform. But the atmosphere is otherwise perfect for Ben Colagiovanni, a freshman composition major waiting his turn on piano at the happening joint.

“Coming from St. Louis, a really great jazz city, I was surprised by how many places here are receptive to jazz,” says Colagiovanni, who appreciates the crowd interaction live jazz performance affords. “If I nail measures 48 through 52 in a Beethoven sonata, I’m not going to get anyone in the audience hooting and hollering.”

Columbia’s jazz scene thrives, thanks to institutions such as Murry’s restaurant and the We Always Swing Jazz Series, which brings national acts to mid-Missouri year-round. Additional spots including Bleu restaurant, the Missouri Theatre and even local churches are getting in on the act.

“Venues around town help students develop their chops, although most of our students are already capable, talented musicians,” says Arthur White, director of jazz studies at the School of Music. “Trusting the other musicians to interpret the music in the same fashion is important because much of jazz is improvised.”

However, jazz gigs shouldn’t be considered miniature unpaid internships, White says. Through MU’s new Music Entrepreneurship Program and the school’s Hire a Musician network, students learn to market themselves, copyright original music, and book gigs at restaurants, wedding receptions, art galleries and private parties.

For Columbians, patronizing these hip “clubs” provides an opportunity to see tomorrow’s jazz stars.

“My dream is to be a freelance performer,” Copeland says. “Whether that means performing or playing in recording studios, I’ll find out soon enough which path I want to pursue.”

White describes two of MU’s youngest musical ambassadors, Colagiovanni and Copeland, as “nice cats.” Right on, daddy-o.