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Jazz Ensembles

drummer on stage in a jazz concert

The jazz program at The University of Iowa is devoted to providing performance opportunities from the full spectrum of jazz styles and history. There are nine to eleven ensembles offered each semester ranging in repertoire and skill/ability. Students are encouraged to audition in the fall, since most ensembles continue for the entire academic year.

Johnson County Landmark

Johnson County Landmark (JCL) is a jazz orchestra, under the direction of John Rapson, devoted to the performance of original compositions by jazz masters, past and present.

Its programs have included the music of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Tadd Dameron, Thad Jones, and Charles Mingus, as well as current stars Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck. JCL has recorded six CDs since 1995, and its most recent album Dreams of Pangaea was released on Southport Records.

Members of Johnson County Landmark are selected by auditions which equally stress reading and improvisational skills. Much of the material performed by JCL requires members to double on secondary instruments and to be conversant with music from different stylistic periods. In addition, to its free concerts on campus, JCL makes frequent club appearances and is often featured as part of Community Artists Series.

Jazz Repertory Ensemble

Jazz Repertory Ensemble is a big band devoted to performing the works of the jazz mainstream. This ensemble covers the range between early swing and progressive jazz. Students learn the conventions of performance practice for each era and the skills for stylistic improvisations. Members of JRE are selected by audition in the fall of each academic year.

Latin Jazz Ensemble

The Latin Jazz Ensemble is a group ranging from 10-15 members dedicated to playing the music of the Caribbean and South America. Its programs each semester are often centered around one country or region, and regularly feature an expanded rhythm section. LJE records an album every other year, and presents an annual Latin Jazz Festival each December. This group is directed by James Dreier, a founding member of Orquesta Alto Maiz and is widely regarded as a resource for Afro-Cuban drum styles. Members of LJE are selected by audition in the fall of each academic year.

Small Jazz Ensembles

Small Jazz Ensembles are open to advanced students with the skills to improvise and produce original arrangements. Under the mentorship of Steve Grismore, these groups each perform two campus concerts every semester, as well as club dates and casuals. Enrollment is by audition.

Combo Workshop

The Workshop is an expanded small group under the tutelage of Steve Grismore, designed to teach the conventions of realizing lead sheets for improvisation and ensemble arrangements. Weekly assignments include the memorization of standards and the imitation of ensemble performance practice from recordings. Enrollment is by audition.


Auditions for all ensembles and lessons occur in the first week of fall classes. 

Skills to be demonstrated in the audition include sight-reading, performance of a prepared piece, and scale knowledge.

Jazz Improvisation (MUS:3710:0002) and Advanced Jazz Improvisation (MUS:4710) require auditions that also operate as juries for students to advance to the next level in the major. Skills to be demonstrated in the audition include scale and chord knowledge, specific improvisational approaches, knowledge of core literature and the ability to "sight improvise" at the appropriate level. The audition must be scheduled in advance of the intended semester of participation and must include a minimum of three Jazz instructors.

  1. A prepared piece
    Something you are already comfortable playing. Good choices are transcriptions, jazz etudes, or a significant portion of a jazz ensemble chart, but we will listen to any piece that you have under your fingers. (Drummers and bassists will be asked to demonstrate familiarity with patterns for various jazz styles, e.g. shuffle, brush work, bossa nova, samba, afro-cuban.)
  2. Sight-reading
    Including a portion of a swing chart at a medium tempo that helps us see how you interpret basic jazz rhythms and articulations (it is more important to us if you continue through a passage than if you make a mistake).
  3. Improvisation on a tune of your choice
    Students are encouraged to bring their own play-along CD. We will have a selection of Aebersold CDs if you don't.

Please contact Professor John Rapson at 319-936-7716, or e-mail for more information or to schedule an audition.