By Emily Hollingsworth
On a typical weeknight, the Evanston café Kafein quietly buzzes with studying students and locals on coffee dates. But on one Thursday night in November, the quaint coffee shop transformed into a lively jazz club. In her solo debut, jazz trombonist Tromblau drew claps and cheers from the audience as her pianist, Spenser Hyun ‘21, improvised tunes over classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and Duke Ellington's “In a Mellow Tone”.
The woman behind Tromblau is Emma Blau, Bienen ‘19, who hails from New York City.
Blau only started playing the trombone when she was 16, but her love for jazz has been a lifelong passion. Her grandfather was a trumpet player in a jazz band in the Bronx and inspired in her an early affinity for big band music.
Blau initially wanted to play the trumpet to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps, but he told her that she was built to be a great trombone player. He showed her a video of the famous jazz trombonist, Tommy Dorsey, playing “Getting Sentimental Over You,” and the seed was planted. By her junior year, Emma had earned a spot in the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra. Through the program, she met Vincent Gardner, who would later become her professor at Northwestern.
Jazz is a form of self-expression for Blau, but she also communicates through her fashion choices. Blau is currently designing her own line of clothing. She describes the line as bold in color and relatable to jazz, but without an explicit jazz context. Her personal style is hip and eclectic, and she experiments with texture, color, and shape to create a cohesive ensemble every day.
"Getting dressed every day, to me, is an art," Blau said. "I have this need every day to say something through my horn, but a lot of days I don’t know how to say those things yet, but I can say them through my clothes."
In addition to her jazz studies, Blau is double majoring in Middle Eastern studies with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although these majors are quite different on the surface, Blau says that her goal is to use both fields of study as a means to make people feel heard. “When it comes to Middle Eastern studies, you have to have an extremely in-depth and nuanced understanding of what’s going on there on a political level. What’s important though, is to not let politics dictate everything that is going on in those regions...there are still people there who are coexisting and sharing cultures and are doing a lot more than politics gives credit for,” Blau said.
Starting this summer, Blau plans to spend six months in Israel to explore ways she can make an impact with her music. Blau says, “What I would love to do one day is be able to use music as a tool for peacebuilding; what that looks like I’m not exactly sure."
Blau currently plays in the Northwestern University Jazz Orchestra. Its next performance is at 7:30 p.m. on February 13, in Galvin Hall.