Skip to content
Home » All Posts » Don’t graduate from Pacific without seeing the Jazz Ambassadors at least once

Don’t graduate from Pacific without seeing the Jazz Ambassadors at least once

Almost every afternoon, you can hear sounds of jazz wafting from the top of Burns Tower over Knoles lawn. That would be the Pacific Jazz Ambassadors playing in the jazz studies rehearsal room on the seventh floor.

The flagship of the university’s jazz ensembles, the Pacific Jazz Ambassadors are five students pursuing an accelerated Bachelor of Music honors degree in jazz studies at the Conservatory of Music: Marwan Ghonima ’24, Samson Hewitt ’24, Tal Kalman ’22, Toby Keys ’22 and Gianna Pendragon ’24. Sam (drums), Toby (piano) and Gianna (violin) are from California while Marwan (bass) came from Houston, Texas, and Tal (saxophone) is from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Their reasons for coming to Pacific are different, but they all agree on what makes their Pacific experience most valuable.

“What’s very unique about this experience as ambassadors is definitely the intimacy that we have in this combo,” Marwan said. “We’re around each other every day and we’re playing a lot in the time we’re here. We are able to form a very special bond with each other and form a group sound that I don’t feel students in different universities get to do because they’re changing combos every year, or they have multiple different ensembles, and they can’t really focus on a group sound.”

The Pacific Jazz Ambassadors program was established in 2000 as the Brubeck Fellows to continue the legacy of Dave Brubeck ’42, one of Pacific’s most distinguished alumni and a world-renowned jazz composer and pianist. Brubeck and his quintet were among the first jazz ambassadors and cultural diplomats in the 1950s and 60s. Marwan, Sam, Tal, Toby and Gianna are following in the footsteps of many who started as Brubeck Fellows and became renowned jazz musicians such as Joel Ross and Glenn Zaleski, Colin Stranahan, Justin Brown or Fabian Almazan.

“I didn’t even know they were in in the program when I signed on, but I had already known who they were,” Toby said. “Once I started finding that out, it hit me how important it was where I was and what I did here. I feel like I almost have a duty to them to become a contributing member of the community that they’ve created and the direct lineage that they’ve created. I want to be a strong link in that.”

Pacific Jazz Ambassadors perform at Prism 2021, an annual concert highlighting the breadth and depth of Pacific’s Conservatory of Music.

But you don’t have to be an artist to feel the benefits of experiencing art. Gianna thinks that emotions evoked by “art, music, can change a trajectory of a person’s day and if you have really inspiring music, you can change [people’s] lives, especially at a larger concert.” She also thinks that art can help with making changes indirectly, for instance when it is used in movements and fundraisers.

By participating in art events, whether gallery shows or music concerts, you can learn more about yourself, meet people and gain new experiences. Marwan, who is a first-year Pacific student himself, advises others to take advantage of such opportunities on campus.

“There’s a pool of different things to dive into at Pacific, like the Mariachi concert I saw recently, it was crazy good!” he said. “So, if you have just come here and you’re feeling like you have no place, and you go to a concert and really connect with that, it can help you figure out what you want to do.”

Just like other Pacific students, the ambassadors enjoy hanging out with friends, joking around and trying new things. Toby and Tal are into coffee and experimenting with a French press and pour-overs; Gianna cooks a bit and likes to explore local dining; Marwan prefers to spend his free time outdoors hiking or exploring areas near Stockton; but Sam admits, “I haven’t been doing much else because I practice a lot. I used to play a lot of video games, but I don’t have time for that.”

Writing, practicing and performing jazz are the driving forces in their lives. All five of them have no doubt that they will continue playing jazz as professional musicians in the future. They don’t only believe that art can have a transformative effect on somebody’s life, they actually live it.

“Everything in my life is about art in one way or another,” Tal said. “I feel so inspired by it; it drives me. And I also feel like jazz is a very unique form of art. I always was envious of artists who create and perform. But that’s what I got from playing with the Jazz Ambassadors. Jazz in essence is about creating and recreating, performing so many different types of characters while reinventing the music every time you go on stage. It’s such a central part of my life, I can’t imagine what my life would be without it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *