Interview with the co-presidents of the GW Jazz Orchestra

I had the pleasure of interviewing co-presidents Zach Sanders and Peter Reiss of GW Jazz Orchestra. A hidden gem in the music scene, The GW Jazz Orchestra is comprised of talented and passionate students who put their soul into the music that they make. Zach and Peter give us the scope on what the music group does and what they have in store for the future.

What is the GW Jazz Orchestra and what do you do?

Peter Reiss : We are a student-run jazz orchestra and jazz community at GW. Our band has about 20 members and these members help make up the membership of the jazz community, including about 20 additional people. The band practices weekly and performs around the DMV area and beyond about five times per semester. The jazz community puts together the weekly jam session that takes place every Friday from 5-7pm in Phillips Hall B-120. This is free and open to the public and all are welcome to attend and/or jam. The executive board of the jazz orchestra regularly runs social outings and trips to jazz performances for the band and the greater GW jazz community.

Why should people pay attention to the GW Jazz Orchestra?

Zach Sanders: Well, first of all, we’re pretty darn entertaining, I think! But as an organization, we’re really committed to providing the best experience possible for as many people as possible. It’s an entirely student-run group. That means we don’t have a director and we’re not under any sort of academic supervision. We can play what we want, when we want; we can perform where we want; we can rehearse how we want. While myself and the Section Leaders set the overall pace of the rehearsal and make decisions about which tunes will be performed at which performances, the band chooses the repertoire for the semester and anyone is welcome to contribute to the dialogue at rehearsal. This creates an environment where everyone is invested in the product at a really, really high level—our members work their asses off to prepare for performances not because some director is yelling at them to practice, but because people really care about how we sound.

Another thing that I think merits attention is the caliber of the music we play, given the above. We play professional-level pieces; industry professionals are consistently surprised by the extent to which we successfully execute difficult music. Again, it’s a testament to the commitment of the group.

And, one more thing I’ll throw in here: Prior to Spring 2015, GW had a really, really strong jazz community. We’ve produced lots of really talented musicians over the years. But around that time, the Columbian College underwent a substantial administrative budget cut, much of which affected the Department of Music’s Jazz Area, and the academic jazz program has been fundamentally different since then. The timing of our founding, March of 2016, was really opportune in that regard: GWJO has been at the cornerstone of preserving that community since then. We work hard to recruit young talent for both our Core Band as well as the Departmental Ensembles, and most importantly, we sponsor a series of weekly Jazz Jam Sessions, previously a Department of Music offering, to give musicians of all levels a place to experience jazz and increase their confidence.

Does the GW Jazz Orchestra compete?

Peter Reiss: Yes, we do! In April, we competed at the Villanova Jazz Festival at Villanova University and won 1st place in addition to best rhythm section and best trombone section. We plan on competing at the same festival next year in addition to any other competition that comes our way.

What has your experience been like in Jazz Orchestra?

Zach Sanders: I Co-Founded the GW Jazz Orchestra with Peter Reiss in March of my Freshman year, and I think it would be pretty accurate to say that GWJO has been the cornerstone of my college experience. It’s where I personally have made some of my best friends, have some of my best memories, and have done some of the things I’m most proud of in college. Seeing my hard work directly translate into something that inspires others to strive for excellence (and, often, achieve it) has just been astounding. Oftentimes, people will turn to me at a GWJO-sponsored event and say, “You know, you made this. How does that make you feel?” I don’t ever have a good answer to that question, other than to say that it certainly wasn’t me alone—all of this would have been inherently impossible if it were me alone. It makes me feel incredibly proud, and thankful, of and for all of the individuals who have made Peter and I’s vision a reality over the past few years. Now, getting ready to hand our baby off to the next generation, I think Peter and I have really just been overwhelmed with pride that enough people have been as fulfilled by GWJO as we have to keep it going after we’re gone.

I like to say that if I can come back to a GWJO concert in ten years and not have a single person in the band know who I am, I’ll know that I successfully left my mark on the GW community through my work with the GWJO.

Does your organization do shows?

Peter Reiss: We perform about five times per semester, usually performing a semester-end concert in addition to gigs all over the DMV.

Zach Sanders: We have performed multiple times at campus venues like the Marvin Center’s Betts Theatre and Lisner Auditorium; Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland; the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in Rockville, Maryland; for incoming Honor Flights at National Airport; as part of the Blues Alley Jazz Society’s BIG BAND JAM! in the National Park Service’s Sylvan Amphitheater and Pershing Park; in partnership with the American Museum of Peace at the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial; and at historic DC jazz venues like Twins Jazz on U Street.

Do you have any upcoming shows?

Peter Reiss: We will be performing at Twins Jazz on U Street on November 5th at 8 and 10pm. Our performance will cover a broad range of the jazz repertoire, ranging from Count Basie to Stevie Wonder. Tickets are $10 and students with a valid Student ID are eligible for a $5 discount.

Be sure to purchase your tickets to support the GW Jazz Orchestra at!

Originally published on by Anika Raju 11.13.17.

CultureAnika Raju