Meet the Jazzy Jungle Cats - The Echo News

Meet the Jazzy Jungle Cats

They’ve got brass

The Jungle Cats jam at one of their two weekly practices. (Photograph by Ruth Flores-Orellana)

The Jungle Cats jam at one of their two weekly practices. (Photograph by Ruth Flores-Orellana)

By Grace Hooley | Echo

“A-one, a-two, a-one, two, three . . .”

Cue the toe-tapping and swing dancing. One of Taylor’s musical gems, the Jungle Cats, has been bringing jazz to Taylor’s campus for four years, and these nine men bring this music to life through their jokes, genuine encouragement and jazz prowess.

These “cats” have learned the meaning of jamming. During practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays, junior Caleb Grubb coordinates the orderly chaos. Grubb lines up gigs, organizes rehearsals and runs the group’s Instagram account: “taylorjunglecats.”

Professor of Music, Instrumental Music, Wind & Jazz Ensembles Al Harrison is in charge of the group. He recommends people to Grubb and is present for the required auditions but allows the group to operate mostly under student leadership. Faculty adjunct Jeff Anderson directs the Jungle Cats and helps with music during Tuesday rehearsals.

Joining this group requires students to be in a second ensemble called Learner’s Combo. These individuals are chosen by Harrison, and the elite players may audition for and join the Jungle Cats. Freshman Isaiah Aubert is the newest member of the Jungle Cats, and the Chorale’s Valentine’s concert was his first performance with the group.

“I really like it,” Aubert said. “I was nervous at the beginning, but it’s a really chill environment.”

The Jungle Cats refer to themselves using a secret name from when the group first began called: “Big Al and the Jungle Cats,” but Harrison changed it to just “Jungle Cats” later. The name refers to the 1940s and ’50s when jazz musicians called each other “cool cats.” One of the band’s original members, Jeff Janiszewski (’14), would play into this joke by wearing a tiger tie during performances. To continue this tradition, each member of the Jungle Cats is given a cat persona that represents them.

“If they are consistent enough (in practicing), we give them a name,” Grubb said. “If they are in the Learner’s Combo, they are a ‘jazz kitten.’ After that, they become a ‘cat.’”

The Jungle Cats usually perform on campus. They have been asked to do private events such as weddings, the Upland Christmas tree lighting and parties. They hope to continue performing on campus, and they would like to add more student events, like playing in the DC during lunches or in the Campus Center.

There are some challenges within the group at times, though. Things such as communication, scheduling, equipment set up and take down can bother these “cool cats.” They do their best to work together to overcome these hurdles, but it takes time.

These nine guys work hard, but they enjoy what they do, including the chill atmosphere, camaraderie and relationships. Sophomores Bryson Shelor and Ethan Garratt enjoy the improvisation that happens naturally.

“I absolutely love improvising,” Garratt said. “That is how you truly know that someone is an expert at their instrument.”

The band had their fair share of inside jokes and funny stories. Soderquist once got stuck in a Taylor van after a performance and also made his concert suit filthy while helping Grubb move his stuck car from the mud after a different performance.

Gardner Stewart will sometimes dance by waddling like a penguin, only to be later joined by Soderquist. There isn’t a dull moment with these guys.

“We have a good time,” Grubb said. “We give each other a hard time, but we all really enjoy playing music. It’s good to have the group just to do that. It’s a very eclectic group of people, but that makes it fun.”

All of the guys have one thing they love about the Jungle Cats: jazz. The music slips into their lives and into our hearts. The players’ passions, skills and personalities are found in every syncopated note. Stewart said, “We are one big, happy, groovy family.”

The Jungle Cats can be reached at caleb_grubb@taylor.edu.

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