Brandeis University

The Brandeis Jazz Ensemble has about 15-18 musicians.  Each year it is different depending on who auditions.  The repertoire consists of charts by the greats ...Ellington, Mingus, Gil Evans, Sun well as arrangements of tunes and original compositions by myself and sometimes students.  Students are encouraged to write for the group and I will meet and work with any student who wishes to do this.

Lately we have been breaking the big group down into small groups with rhythm section and 2 or 3 horns.  This allows the players to focus on combo playing and they have more opportunity to work on soloing.  A concert usually has 5 or 6 big band pieces and 5 or 6 small group pieces.  Occasionally a guest artist will come in and play with the band.

Any interested musicians who play saxophone, brass, piano, guitar, bass, drums/percussion are encouraged to audition.

Almost any other instruments are also encouraged to try out.

You don't have to have experience improvising but must be able to read well.

At least one concert per semester.


The Brandeis Improvisation Collective (B.I.C.)

Every Semester (usually Tuesday evenings)

Tom Hall 


 The focus is on free improvisation.

If you don’t make the jazz ensemble or don’t want to be in it but still want to work on improvising this may be the group for you.  Open to any instrument.  It will meet about 10 times a semester and play a concert at the end of the semester.

 Students frequently put their own groups together and play on campus at the coffee shop or alumni events.

 Independent study is available to those who want to work on specific projects that are not covered by courses...perhaps composing a piece for the Jazz Ensemble.

 One advantage to a small department is there are not many "in house" instrumental faculty for individual instruments.  The advantage to this is students can find teachers in the Boston area to study with through Brandeis.  There are lots of great musicians in the area with Berklee College and New England Conservatory in town.

 One disadvantage of a small music department is the various levels of proficiency of the students.  We have some who are on a level where they could be at any top notch conservatory and some who may be doing music more for fun/hobby in the same ensemble.  The ensembles are generally very good and the music is not watered down in any way.  If you compare the ensembles with conservatory groups they will fall short but if you compare them with other liberal arts schools in the area like Tufts or Harvard they are quite strong and better than most. (I have a friend who used to direct the Tufts band and he said the Brandeis band is better, not that it is a competition)

 One last thing.  I have found the environment here to be very friendly and accepting.  I haven’t noticed a lot of the high pressure competitive nasty stuff that can go on in a conservatory between students.

 Anyway, I hope this has answered some of your questions.  Feel free to ask anything I have not covered. You can also check out my website to learn more about me.  Good luck!

© Robert Nieske 2015  email me at: