It had never happened before.
As I walked into the Contented Cow on Saturday, Feb. 25 at about 6:45 pm, there were no available seats anywhere in the bar.
We scoured every corner and table, but the pub was filled to the brim with Oles coming to socialize, listen to high-quality jazz music and support their friends and classmates who make up campus jazz band, No Votes for Oats.
The band features Eliza Block ’17 on trumpet, Simon Broccard ’18 on alto sax, Kieran Berton ’18 on piano, Ally Moore ’19 on bass and Henry Huber ’17 on drums. The group originally formed two years ago, although one original member graduated and two members are studying abroad this semester. Moore just joined this semester, making her debut at the Cow.
“We first started playing together because a few of us in the jazz band wanted to participate in jam sessions on the weekend,” Broccard said. “During the first few months, we never really had the intention of performing outside the band room because we were having fun on our own agenda. It wasn’t until our first gig that we began to consider performing in public spaces.”
The decision to bring their music to the public was obviously the right one, because in order to find a seat at the packed performance my friends and I ended up needing to drag a row of chairs directly in front of the stage, just a few feet away from the jamming musicians. I felt a little conspicuous sneaking my notebook out of my purse, so instead of taking notes I just watched the magic happen in front of me.
A crucial element of playing jazz is improvisation, and those skills were on display at the concert. The band members were closely engaged with each other, nodding and breaking into genuine smiles when one of their bandmates took ahold of a solo and ran with it. Their chemistry was palpable and made watching them play that much more fun.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to play with people who are not only great musicians, but are also creative, intelligent and fun to be around,” Block said.
Unlike the band’s other gigs, the Cow allows the group to have complete freedom over their setlist.
“Performing at the Cow is always a great experience because we can create a set list that includes everything from swing and Latin jazz, to pop and electronic,” he said.
The setlist was largely unfamiliar to me, as my experience with jazz is sadly largely limited to recent non-Best Picture winner “La La Land,” but more knowledgeable listeners would have recognized standards like Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” and Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus.” By far the most popular number of their night was the finale, Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” which had several audience members on their feet and singing along, and left us all humming and buzzing as we headed out.
For those who missed the concert, the band will be playing at the Cow again on Friday, April 29. If it’s anything like the last one, No Votes for Oats promises to deliver a great, casual concert filled with energy, warmth, comfortable chemistry and keen musicianship. Here’s to many more standing-room only shows for this talented campus band.