Monday, December 18, 2023

In an interview with Down Beat magazine, the jazz legend Thelonious Monk once said, “All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.”

For the University of Waterloo Jazz Ensemble, that connection between music and math is explicit. This fall term, 16 students and one alum were in the Jazz Ensemble. Eight of those students were from the Faculty of Mathematics, with two from the Cheriton School of Computer Science.

This high percentage of Math students makes perfect sense to David Hao, a computer science major who played piano in the ensemble this term. “Music, boiled down to its essentials, is the combination of sound waves — vibrations — that, when heard, elicit emotion,” he says. “It is a form of mathematical beauty.”

In a typical year, the jazz ensemble has 17 or 18 players: a large group of alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; a handful of trumpets and trombones; and then the rhythm section: piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion.

For some students, like Kaitlyn Bowles, a math/business administration major and trumpet player, the Jazz Ensemble is the latest step in a jazz career that stretches back to elementary school.

For others, like Andrew Grace, who played bass guitar in fall 2021 while completing his PhD in applied mathematics, the Ensemble is their first major experience with jazz.

After auditions at the beginning of the term, the ensemble members practice together on Monday evenings, culminating in a concert where they perform five or six jazz pieces from a variety of backgrounds and styles.

photo of David Hao, Andrew Lee and Ray Kong

David Hao (Computer Science) on piano, Andrew Lee (Computer Science) on bass, and Ray Kong (Pure Mathematics) on electric guitar

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