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The Jazz Conceptions Orchestra: The Best is Yet to Come

By Published: June 24, 2009
And seasoned performers they truly are—most of the members have been playing since they were toddlers. Lee began learning piano when he was two and Nguyen, Bowlus and Edwards started, also with piano, when they were five. The others have similar backgrounds. All pursued musical educations with a strong emphasis on jazz and now, in their early 20s, the members of the JCO are accomplished composers and arrangers, as well as performers.

The accolades and awards they've already collected individually are impressive and the roster of jazz legends and recording artists they've played with reads like a jazz hall of fame. They've performed at clubs and festivals throughout the world and are looking forward to taking the JCO on the road in the future.

The surprising thing about the JCO is the amazing lack of ego with all of that talent. "We're all about the music," says Nguyen. "Each of the players is a great musician. We trust each other and can feel intuitively where the music is taking us. It's about connecting with each other and with the audience."

"The thing I enjoy about the band the most," Edwards added, "is the quality of music coming from each member in the band. It's always special for me to play with these guys. I think it inspires all of us. There is a kind of joyful energy that we feel, and I've heard from the audience that they can feel, and actually see it too. It amazes me, because when we play, I can feel how it felt in the '30s and '40s when big bands were everywhere and really popular. The music is still so powerful—and relevant!"

While such talented young musicians may have their choice of musical genres to pursue, the members of the JCO say the emotional and expressive nature of jazz attracted them.

The Jazz Conceptions Orchestra"I'm not sure if I chose jazz or if it chose me," answers Lee. "It is something that I have always been in love with since a little kid. I was very lucky to have parents that encouraged me to follow my passion no matter what it was or how much money or commercial success it would bring me."

"Compared to other genres of music," Bowlus reflects, "Jazz is the purest expression of human emotion. It's very spiritual, and has the ability to affect people of all ages. Jazz swings and makes you want to dance. Jazz is romantic and sentimental and can make you cry. The more you get involved with the jazz art form, the more you love it."

Adkins takes exception to the conventional wisdom that jazz is declining. "I personally don't believe jazz is a dying art form. I believe it is going through some changes," he says. He credits the schools—UNF and other jazz studies programs throughout the country with playing a key role in keeping jazz alive. "Not only is it growing in musical terms, but the number of people who appreciate jazz is certainly growing as well."

"Jazz isn't dying," Edwards insists. "In fact, I'm willing to bet it's one of the only art forms with the musical integrity to further withstand the test of time. Just because jazz isn't necessarily what's being fed to the public by media distributors doesn't mean it's dying and it doesn't mean the audience wouldn't dig it if they heard it.

"When an audience hears our band swing, they can feel it. I believe that being a jazz musician demands all the faculties of any great musician, regardless of genre," he added. "Besides the emphasis on improvisation, all the members of the JCO have arranged for the ensemble. For us, jazz is perhaps the only art form where we can fully satisfy our musical needs."

"Hopefully, we can do our part to keep jazz alive," Bowlus adds. "Jazz is definitely not as popular as other genres of music, but it should be. I agree with Robert that it doesn't get enough exposure. Most people don't get enough education about this wonderful art form to even know what it is all about. All of us are planning on being dedicated to the music for our entire lives, and hopefully we can inspire other up and coming jazz musicians."

The group plans to continue performing and recording together. Two years after creating the JCO, the members of the group are doing their own musical things in different parts of the country, in addition to performing with the band.

Bowlus is the only one who continues to reside in Jacksonville, where he performs locally and nationally with his own group. Zettlemoyer is working on his masters in composition at the University of South Florida in Tampa under composer and pianist Chuck Owen
Chuck Owen
Chuck Owen

. Fratti is pursing his master's degree at New Jersey City University where he's studying with saxophonist Bob Malach.

LoRe, who lives in Boston, recently graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with George Garzone
George Garzone
George Garzone
sax, tenor
and Frank Carlberg. He'll be attending graduate school at the Manhattan School of Music where he'll continue to study with Garzone.

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