When you ask Brandon Hall what he values about the Columbia Jazz Orchestra, he will tell you the community. After reviving the orchestra, Hall has worked to create a musical environment where members make music together and build lasting relationships.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you start the Columbia Jazz Orchestra?
When I worked at the Lyceum Theater I was talking with my friend Todd, and we were saying “you know, there’s no big bands here.” I missed that more than anything from college. Usually, schools and those kinds of institutions are the only place you’re going to find an opportunity to put a band together that big where everybody’s going to be there and have the time and actually all show up. Among some students, there are some of these guys that had come from pretty strong backgrounds as jazz students, and they were finding eventually that they weren’t really being challenged in the MU program anymore at that point, despite having made it to the top tiers of the group. So the coalition initially for the Columbia Jazz Orchestra was really half guys like me and Todd, just community players, and then the other half of students.
What are some of the hardships you face within the Columbia Jazz Orchestra?
There has actually not been hardly anything that I would call a hardship. There’s been rehearsal, which sometimes there are arguments and sometimes people have different ideas about how things should go, but nothing I would call hardships. It is that through experiences I had, like living with undiagnosed ADHD and just the onslaught of judgment and personal attacks in the process of experiencing all that developed the sensibility of never wanting anybody else to have to feel like that. It really informed my mindset that sometimes when it looks like somebody is not good at something, they might just not be good at it because there’s something else that’s eating their executive functioning capacities. I took that experience. and I just tried not to apply that judgment. When I’m sitting in front of a group rehearsing, I go in with the assumption that this is a group of adults that wants to be there. I know they want to be there; I can see them in the room with me.
How did you gain support for the Columbia Jazz Orchestra?
We started playing the last Monday of every month. And we just said, last Monday of every month, over and over again to everyone we can find. I haven’t done in a while, but I used to go on a program on Wednesday nights on local radio. I used to go on every now and then I talk about what we’re going to be doing, but it was about consistency, make sure they know where to find you and then show up and enjoy. Then it also kind of helps when your band has 20 people in it, and they should want to bring their friends. But also, it shouldn’t just be friends of the guys in the bands that go out to support live music.
I remember being on the line one night at one of these shows at Broadway Brewery and looking at the crowd. Next to me was my wife, who also plays trumpet on the trumpet line. I looked at her and said, “I don’t recognize any of these people.” I knew they weren’t personal friends and family of the band. It was then I realized all these people actually came up just to see the band. And that’s when I knew we were going to be OK.