Improvisation: the only way to go

Juggling classes, a job and a social life is enough work for any college student. Adding a temperamental group of artists, practices and recording sessions would push many over the edge. Ian Roberts and his Hugh Jazz Orchestra have found a way to fit all the commitments together.

Roberts, a drummer since he was 11 years old, plays locally about once a week with his three-piece combo. The group includes guitarist Peter Boone and bass player Calvin Lotz. Since their inception late last year, they have played shows at such local taverns as the Tug boat, Mt. Tabor and Ethos.

Their most frequent hangout is the Who���s on First Sports Pub on 5201 N.E. Sandy Blvd. ���I like that place. I think we will play there about once a month,���� Roberts said.Most of the group���s set is comprised of original material. ���Some of the traditional jazz songs we play are written by our guitar player but most of our songs are spontaneous arrangements.����

Moving gear, setting up dates and paying for equipment are a few of the challenges faced by starting bands. With limited places to play and difficulties in creating audience support, running a band can be an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. Audiences in a town like Portland can become overly familiar with a band they see three or four times a month. Add to this the limited financial gain and it is easy to see why show business is not for the weak of heart.

���Having the band thing is like any other serious relationship. If it is going to work you���ll have to put an incredible amount of work into it. In some ways it is more difficult than a one-on-one relationship because you���re dealing with multiple people and they all have to have the same goals and priorities. Most of the difficulty does not revolve around the music itself,���� Roberts said. ���most people can theoretically be good enough to play music. What is more important is how hard you want to work at it.����Roberts admits that playing with a trio can be easier than a larger group. ���Whenever the number of people increases it is logistically harder, but it doesn���t have to be. It depends on their dedication.����

The money, or lack thereof, is not a problem for the band at this time, Roberts said. ���Obviously we have to support ourselves by other means. We want to make money playing music but we know it takes time.����

As far as making a living playing in a small market like Portland, Roberts said, ���As long as you are playing in a town, I think if you can get to the place where you cover the cost of living you are one of the few and you the lucky.����

For a new band finding places to play is the key. ���I find that most people who run clubs are willing to give you a shot if you go and talk to them,���� Roberts said. ���Like anything, your biggest opponent is combating apathy.����

Bands can increase their exposure by playing with other known bands. ���It can really help. We don’t do too much of it because we like to play for about two hours,���� Roberts said. ���To succeed as a band we will have to get outside help. Whether that means a recording deal or just a distribution deal I���m not sure.����

The small shows help build audience support and get a view of what the audience wants to hear. ���If anyone is interested, you have to make it as accessible as possible. Our music is not the easiest to get into so you have to make it easier for them to find.����

Roberts said some of his earliest influences were country western stars. ���When I was a kid I liked the old school country players like Waylon Jennings and Buck Williams. When I was seven or eight, Bruce Springsteen was my favorite.����

As for jazz influences, Roberts said he likes Chick Corea. ���I���m not much into the big band thing. Right now my favorite players are people like Dennis Chambers and Terry Bozio. Music is far and away my biggest interest. Music encompasses my social life,���� Roberts said. ���This is absolutely a career goal. I would like to make this not a part-time occupation but a full-time occupation, as soon as possible.����

Roberts has little interest in pursuing a job in music other than as a working musician. ���For a job it would be a pretty good one. The thing I like is playing and enjoying it on that level. If I���m going to be in music, I���m going to be playing. If not, then I���ll get a regular job.����

Currently finishing a communications degree at PSU, Roberts transferred from the University of Oregon in 1998, and has enjoyed his time here. ���I���m glad that I���ve had the opportunity to go to school. I definitely made the right choice doing that.���� The Hugh Jazz Orchestra plays the Paris Theater, on S.W. Third and Burnide, on June 8.