Jack Schabert ’24 is a BM music education major and accomplished percussionist at St. Olaf College. Between his obligations to the St. Olaf Band, St. Olaf Orchestra, Jazz I, Jazz Combo, and Percussion Ensemble, Schabert is also an actively gigging drummer in and around the Twin Cities area. He makes frequent restaurant and retirement home appearances with his group, the Blue Ox Jazz Trio. Schabert’s passion for jazz music is evident in everything he does, and the artistry of his playing comes from a place of truly genuine inspiration.
The Messenger interviewed Schabert to learn more about how he became involved in music and started performing regular gigs. The interview appears below and has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you start playing percussion?
Schabert: I was 9 [years old], in the fourth grade. I had taken some piano lessons before and I wanted to play the drums. In seventh grade, I got my hands on a drum set. My band director found a kit from a family at his church, and they just gave it to me. I went to Roseville Area High School, and they had a really good jazz program.
What is the origin of the Blue Ox Jazz Trio, the group you gig with regularly in St. Paul?
Schabert: During my junior year of high school I started playing in small jazz groups. My band director was a jazz alto saxophonist who lived in New York for a while as a professional musician before he came back to Minnesota to be a band director. So he kind of got me going, doing small group stuff at school. I was really into it and started a trio eventually — just piano, bass, and drums. We emailed 100 restaurants and heard back from two of them. We frequented those venues and still do with my new group.
I heard you also play at retirement homes. How did you get involved with that scene?
Schabert: Last spring, towards the end of the semester, I had a lot of freetime, so I made a spreadsheet of every retirement community in the Twin Cities — there were 317 of them. I had the website, the email, and the name of the activities director for each one and I emailed all of them. I heard back from five, so we played at five senior homes in early June. Afterwards the word got out to other activities directors and by the end of the summer we were performing every weekday afternoon, in addition to the restaurant stuff on Friday and Saturday nights.
How do you balance all your gigs with school work and ensembles?
Schabert: I don’t know. I try to choose my battles. I’m not going to go all-in on some class when it’ll be just fine if I end up with an A minus. I would rather continue to develop myself professionally than try to be on top of every single thing.
What do you want to do after you graduate?
Schabert: I don’t know yet. I want to be a band director some day, but I would like to perform. It would be good to have a teacher’s license to fall back on. I’ll either perform or I’ll get a master’s degree. Or both.
What do you think sets jazz apart from other genres?
Schabert: Getting good at making music takes practice, but for improvisation in particular — when you are improvising with a group of people — you can’t learn that in a practice room. You need to get in front of a live audience with other musicians and get things figured out.
Just like any other type of music, 95 percent of jazz music isn’t any good. It’s really helpful to have somebody around who knows what they are talking about and can show you where the good stuff is. The thing I have found with doing live jazz stuff, is that jazz is live music. Jazz does not do the same thing for you in a recording as it does at a live performance. So when people come up to me after shows and say things like “man I thought I hated jazz, but this was good,” that feels good. I try to hear as much live music as I can. My high school band director passed away right after I graduated high school, and I still feel shame because I didn’t hear him perform as much as I should have. Whenever one of my teachers has a gig, I go to it. Every single one if I can.
What is your advice to young musicians who want to know how to begin getting gigs?
Schabert: I just emailed a bunch of places. You just have to get your name out there. You can go on any website of any business and find their email and harass them until they give you a job. Just like how you get any job, you just have to do it dozens and dozens of times. If you really want it, just go for it.
To learn more about Schabert and his upcoming performances go to www.jackschabertmusic.com or follow @jackshabertmusic on Instagram.