Eric Nelson, a retired Cache Valley public schoolteacher, knows an old joke when it comes to telling the difference between a rock band and a jazz band, like the one he plays with every week.

“The rock band plays three chords for 5,000 people. The jazz band plays 5,000 chords for three people,” he said.

But that certainly was not the case this past New Year’s Eve, as people packed into Jack’s Wood Fired Oven to eat, drink and hear Nelson’s band, Pudding, play jazz standards.

Set up in a corner in front of a large Christmas tree, the quartet — with two woodwind players, a bassist and a guitarist — performed over an hour’s worth of songs, including Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)” and Count Basie’s “Well Alright, Okay, You Win.” The band even threw in some bossa nova with a guest singer, performing “Dindi” by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

“It was kind of a nerve-wracking night to come in as a guest because it was so well attended,” said Kendall Becker, who sang with Pudding on Monday night. “It’s really fun to play music for a crowd of people.”

Becker loves Pudding’s musical arrangements and even though the band does not have a sole full-time vocalist, she feels the players instinctively know how to perform with one.

“They really know what they’re doing,” Becker said. “All I have to do is do my part and then they can adapt.”

BAND BEGINNINGS

The band Pudding could not have formed were it not for the friendships created decades ago.

Nelson and Greg Wheeler, a professional practice assistant professor at USU, had the same band teacher when they were students at Logan High School.

“It was live! That’s what we lived for,” Wheeler said.

Nelson added, “Bands are everything in high school.”

Jim Schaub, a retired Cache County public schoolteacher, attended Sky View High School and met Wheeler and Nelson when they were all students at USU. The men played in rock bands in the 1970s and ‘80s, though not always all together.

Years later, Schlub felt the need to “have a place to jam,” so he called up Wheeler and they started playing together at the former Borders bookstore in Logan. Those initial performances, some 16 years ago, are the earliest memories the band has playing as Pudding.

Enter Kelin Gibbons, a 28-year-old musical virtuoso who was a student of some members of the band while he was attending school.

“I wrote a horrible song and you guys performed it, before I knew anything about culture,” Gibbons said with a laugh. “It was called ‘Strung Out.’ Jim said it was about dental floss, covered it up for me.”

Before he knew it, Gibbons was asked to join the band, playing lead and rhythm electric jazz guitar.

The band’s original name, Jazz Pudding, was thought of by a former piano player of theirs. But band members decided to change the name recently after discovering another group had claimed it first.

Schaub called Pudding “goofy name” for a band, but it does, in a way, match their abilities as performers.

“We can play any style of music for any occasion,” he said.

STUDENTS OF JAZZ

Pudding doesn’t sit around and practice together before a performance; the stage is where band members hone their craft.

On New Year’s Eve at Jack’s, Schaub played some bright walking baselines while singing a few numbers. Nelson switched between clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor sax. Each member of the band got a chance to do a solo. They also gave their guest, Becker, her chance to shine as she sang “Dindi” and other jazz standards.

“When you’re with good musicians, it makes you play better,” Wheeler said.

Schaub added, “That’s the fun part of it; it’s really creative, because you’re constantly making up stuff.”

Nelson hopes people listening to Pudding come away with more of an appreciation for jazz, which can only happen if the band members choose to play in good taste.

“There are some jazz musicians that purposely play so complicated and so outside that the audience cannot connect to it,” he said. “A good jazz musician should stay kind of close to the melody and present it in a way that the audience can connect to.”

Wheeler noted jazz’s American origins and said its history is on the band’s mind when they’re playing.

“The one thing that I found is, there’s always more to learn about jazz,” Wheeler said. “You never know it all. Even till the day we die, we’ll be students of jazz.”

Kevin Opsahl is the USU reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at kopsahl@hjnews.com or 435-792-7231.