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Jazz Choir Brings Diversity to UNLV Music Department

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After years of speculation, the UNLV music department is offering a jazz choir for the first time in its history.

Although the course is officially labeled as a jazz vocal ensemble by the music department, students have the opportunity to perform choral arrangements of songs by vocalists of varying generations and eras.

The ensemble has performed arrangements of songs such as Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and Eddie Vinson’s “Four.”

UNLV Professor and director of jazz studies David Loeb, 61, said he wanted to offer the jazz choir to display the talent of students who don’t play an instrument.

“It was a decision that was long overdue,” Loeb said. “This decision allows us to showcase the power a singer can deliver to a crowd by telling a story with words and vocal power.”

He also said the belatedness of the decision was due to the consistently low number of jazz vocalists at UNLV. The jazz department never had more than five vocalists partaking in jazz studies prior to the fall 2013 semester.

“Long story short, singers, regardless if they are performing by themselves or in a group, bring a different element to music,” said Jo Belle Yonely, director of jazz vocal studies.

Janet Tyler, who has been the director of choral studies at Las Vegas High School since 2009, teaches the course. She occasionally teaches the course with other music teachers from Las Vegas.

Unlike singers in classical music choirs, where their performances are held mostly at school, vocal jazz students get to travel throughout Las Vegas to showcase their abilities.

Yonely believes the addition of this choir will continue bringing benefits to UNLV, especially since some universities, such as the University of Utah, do not accept singers into their jazz departments.

“Ever since we started showcasing the singers, the shows have been experiencing gradual increases,” Yonely said.

After beginning with just eight students during its inaugural semester, the jazz vocal ensemble currently contains 20 singers.

The class in conducted in the Alta Ham Fine Arts Building on Wednesdays from 7 until 9:45 p.m.

Not everyone enrolled in the jazz choir is a music major. Fifteen of the 20 singers are music majors, and the class also contains three voluntary students and one finance and accounting major.

The singers love the vocal jazz ensemble at UNLV.

“I think it’s a great addition to our school, and especially our music department,” said vocal performance major Gary Fowler, 23. “It’s a real treat for anyone loves jazz music as much as they love classical music.”

Fowler is one of seven charter members of the jazz department’s vocal ensemble.

Students have advertised the class by plastering posters throughout campus, and creating Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Loeb regularly advertises the singers of the jazz department by traveling to various high schools throughout the country with at least two vocalists each semester.

There is no formal audition process prior to enrolling into the class. It has been made available to the public since Aug. 2014.

“The music department, especially regarding the jazz studies field, definitely feels more complete,” Yonely said. “The best has yet come for these talented students.”

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