In the Millikin Community Jazz Ensemble, a love of jazz spans generations

The age range of the group’s performers runs from 12 to 90.

Jazz Ensemble

DECATUR, Ill. – As Dr. Emma Taylor brought the Millikin Community Jazz Ensemble (MCJE) to attention, the Millikin University School of Music faculty member saw a wide range of ages and abilities among the group’s performers.

But one thing is consistent among them all – a love of jazz. 

Jazz Ensemble
Dr. Emma Taylor co-directs the Millikin Community Jazz Ensemble. 

“It is a fun group. It is interesting because we have some Millikin students and some local students,” Taylor said. “Our drummer is 12 and we have some high schoolers. We also have a trumpet player who is 90. We also have band directors and professional musicians. It is an adventure.”

The MCJE is one of the programs offered by the Millikin Community Arts Academy (MCAA), which aims to provide art programming to the Decatur community that fosters an appreciation and participation in the arts while instilling a lifelong love and enjoyment of the arts.  Taylor was joined by Millikin Assistant Professor of Music Dr. David Moore as co-director of the MCJE. 

The group met once a week for practice for 65 minutes and took the stage on Oct. 29 for a final fall semester concert that showed their improvement over the past 10 weeks. 

Jazz Ensemble
Larry Daly plays the trombone for the Millikin Jazz Ensemble.

“We did a lot this semester on improvisation, and everyone was very patient. It was fun and helpful to have more experienced players because they could set an example and help us with the younger players,” Taylor said. “We have been working on these tunes for 10 weeks, so it hasn’t been a long time. This was our celebration of the semester, playing the stuff we have been working on in front of an audience.”

The pieces played included Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” Neal Hefti’s “Splanky,” Tom Harrell’s “Sail Away and a song with a Millikin connection. 

“One of the pieces we played, “Roadtrip,” was arranged by a previous trumpet professor and Millikin Jazz Director Randy Reyman,” Moore said. “We try to keep a variety between standards and modern stuff. We also focused on teaching improvisation and several group members played improvised solos. That takes a lot of courage, especially if you haven’t done that before.”

Jazz Ensemble
Millikin sophomore Grant Gillen plays alto saxophone for the Millikin Community Jazz Ensemble. 

Millikin’s Grant Gillen, a sophomore Commercial Music major (with a certificate in Jazz Studies), played alto saxophone for the MCJE. It was his first performance with the instrument after playing clarinet since the fifth grade and the tenor saxophone since the seventh grade. 

“I overheard students and faculty talking that the ensemble was missing an alto saxophone player, and their concert was coming up. I knew Dr. Moore and Dr. Taylor led the group, so I reached out and asked if I could sub in for the second alto part,” Gillen said. 

“I reached out to my saxophone professor, Dr. Perry Rask, and asked if he could lend an alto saxophone, and within an hour, I had one in my hand. From there, I only had a few hours to work it out and showed up to the rehearsal.”

Jazz Ensemble
Joseph Bell plays guitar for the Millikin Community Jazz Ensemble. 

The ensemble welcomed their new member, and the experience reinvigorated Gillen’s love of jazz performance after taking a break for several years. 

“After only attending one rehearsal and then the concert, the community members were some of the kindest people I have worked with. They were accepting of me and did not treat me any differently being there to sub in than if I had been there the whole time. The rehearsal went wonderfully, with jokes being made, an abundance of encouragement, but most importantly, fun was happening,” Gillen said. “My favorite part of the community ensemble was sharing the joy of jazz with everyone else. The community jazz band allowed me to bring jazz saxophone performance back into my life, with this being the first band I have played jazz saxophone since 2019. It brought back a spark I did not know had gone out inside me.”

The ensemble will begin again following winter break and runs Jan. 30-April 9, with practices each Tuesday from 6:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

Jazz Ensemble
Dr. David Moore co-directs the MIllikin Community Jazz Ensemble.

“Ideally, we hope to get over 20 performers, and the more the merrier. We want the ensemble to be a tradition here in Decatur,” Moore said. “I’m hoping to add a vocalist for some numbers and be able to rotate some rhythm section players around. I think we will see the band grow considerably.”

The MCJE welcomes area musicians from high school and older of all performance levels with at least one year of playing experience. The registration fee is $165 and prospective members can register on the MCAA homepage. For more information, please contact Dr. Moore at