A winning combination


When most people think of Cary-Grove championships, they probably think of football, track and field, gymnastics or volleyball. However, the most successful group in the school doesn’t compete on a court or field or mat — they take to the stage.

DownBeat is a nationally famous magazine known for all the latest news in jazz performance. Every year, this prestigious magazine gives out awards to student groups and soloists around the US. The Cary-Grove Jazz Combo has won the Outstanding Performance in Blues/Rock/Pop award for the fifth straight year. (Listen to “Pass the Peas,” a Jazz Combo song, here)

Although many people only know the Jazz Combo as the kids who play during Meet the Deans, their small group has a lot of dynamo to it to continue the tradition of excellence they’ve achieved.

The Jazz Combo is led by Mr. Patrick Whalen, one of the music instructors at C-G. Mr. Whalen initially got into jazz at a young age.

“I liked to improv as a kid,” Mr. Whalen said. His love for jazz transferred to his path in college, where he majored in jazz performance. Mr. Whalen discovered his love for teaching, though, and decided to pursue a career that would allow him to share his love of jazz with others.

The current Jazz Combo consists of four musicians: Maddi Vogel on drums, Josh LaSota on guitar, Devin Sova on bass, and CJ Olsen on trumpet. Surprisingly enough, most of these performers weren’t that into jazz before joining Combo. Vogel didn’t even want to be in Jazz Combo because she believed performing jazz was too difficult.

“I definitely twisted her arm,” Mr. Whalen said when asked about how Vogel joined into the group. Vogel is now seriously considering going into jazz performance in college.

Once in the group, the musicians get down to business.

“I take Combo very seriously,” LaSota said. These players put in time after school practicing as a group as well as on their own time. Some of the songs that the Combo plays have insanely difficult rhythms and key signatures that aren’t seen in classical music.

The defining characteristic of jazz is the ability to perform an improv solo. With most of the players coming into Jazz Combo with little jazz experience, it was difficult to learn how to solo.

“I’ve gained a ridiculous amount of confidence,” Olsen said about his performance in improv.

Although the group is amazing at what they do, they also have a fun side. The group make jokes in rehearsal and tease each other in the halls. And, of course, they joke about how jazz has changed their lives.

“I’m swearing my life to poverty,” Vogel said, smiling and laughing.

And of course they all have their own opinions on Mr. Whalen.

“He’s just a crazy man!” Sova said with a laugh. Even though they joke around with Mr. Whalen, each one of them credits him for their immense growth as a musician, and they are also able to really connect to one another on a whole new level.

“There’s a harmony in our group,” Olsen said. All of the members of the Jazz Combo talked about how they felt communally bonded to one another, how their group was more of a big group of friends who all enjoyed jazz. Every single one of the members talked about how they “communicate musically” when they really get into one of their jams.

With a group that is worried more about having a “musical conversation” they aren’t as stoic as some jazz bands. The C-G Jazz Combo won a competition against a very popular jazz ensemble from Wheeling, and it was based on the fact that they had better communication.

“We are more fun to watch,” LaSota said.

How does the C-G Jazz Combo stand out among the other jazz ensembles? It has to do with the style they add to their music. The players put their own voice into each classic they perform.

“Every song is an original piece,” Vogel said.

LaSota even created original pieces that the Combo has played for their recordings. One of these original songs was called Weekend Morning. The other members are extremely proud of him for it.

“We always inspire each other,” Sova said when talking about LaSota’s original compositions.

The C-G music department has a lot of harmony and familial vibes, but Jazz Combo seems to take the cake when it comes to a cohesive group. Not only have they kept their tradition of excellence alive, but they bond with each other like most students would never imagine out of a small jazz band.