Jazz combos at BHS foster creativity, community, and challenge


The band program at Berkeley High School brings creativity, community and challenge to the people in it. Combos are a combination of anywhere from two to 10 people with a mix of instruments, can be a great way for student musicians to not only practice their instrument, but also to play in a more casual setting. 

“The specific way (combos are) interpreted here in the Berkeley High School jazz culture is, it’s a student led group meant to play jazz and all sorts of jazz genres,” said Elliott Martens, a senior in the jazz band.

Teachers in the band program highly encourage students of all grades in their classes to form and participate in combos. 

“They don’t always need an adult telling them what to do. They need to figure it out themselves and they need to choose the tunes. They need to figure out how to make them sound good,” said Sarah Cline, a jazz teacher at BHS. “They need to arrange the tune with the band, which takes a lot of listening and thought and coordination. It’s just such a great thing.” 

When a group of students who participate in combos were asked whether they felt supported and creatively challenged, they unanimously and enthusiastically said yes. 

Martens described the process of creating a combo. 

“There’s kind of an art involved with finding the right people for the job,” Martens said. “Thankfully, Berkeley High has such a massive pool of musicians, so it’s not really hard to find somebody. … There are plenty of combos that form in friendships. If there’s a bunch of jazz kids that are friends with each other, they just want to play together in the form of a combo.” 

Students in combos usually play a myraid of instruments. 

“Most of (the people in the combo) are just in freshman band with me, so usually it’s a few different instruments, so I just asked one trumpet player, a bass player, (and) said, ‘Want to start playing?’ and they were like ‘Sure,’’’ said Vikram Bisarya, a BHS freshman.

Students who are interested in forming a combo often ask friends and classmates. Combos are usually made up of a bass, drums, a piano, a trumpet and a saxophone. There has always been a culture of combos within the BHS community, bringing everyone together. 

“It reproduces itself from year to year, which is really awesome,” Cline said when asked about the culture of combos. While the culture of combos hasn’t changed much in terms of the instruments, there has been some significant developments. Cline points out a very important difference in the band community. “(What) I’ve noticed since I got here is a lot more girls being included in combos, making their own combos, and making girls and non-binary student combos together. It’s a part of solving the problem of, ‘how come there’s so many guys out there on the stage.’”

Jazz musicians are, in the near future, hoping to have combos playing in the courtyard during the week. 

Everyone is encouraged to come and listen.