Purdue Jazz Band’s “Now & Then” explores 100 years of jazz
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Travel through 11 decades of jazz, make the leap from Dixieland versions of tunes such as “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” popular in 1902, to modern jazz works like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” written in 2005, and “you’ll find the same pervasive fun-loving spirit in all of them,” says Purdue Jazz Band director M.T. “Mo” Trout.
In its “Now & Then” concert set for 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in Loeb Playhouse of the Purdue Stewart Center, the Jazz Band will be joined by Purdue’s newest performing ensemble, the Boiler Hot Club for a free concert that samples jazz throughout the ages.
The eight-member Boiler Hot Club is fashioned after the lively Dixieland bands that were the forerunners of jazz.
One of the widest-ranging concerts Purdue’s jazz bands has ever presented, “Now & Then” features such tunes as “St. James Infirmary” (earliest versions from 1899), “Bugle Call Rag” (1923), “Basie Boogie,” (1941), “I Get a Kick Out of You,” (1957), “Too Close For Comfort,” (1976) and “One for My Baby” (1994) and “Fiesta Bahia” (2005).
“There are many styles of big band jazz but three primary compositional trends, and it all starts with New Orleans jazz and the Dixieland style,” says Trout. “Dixieland Bands were created to fill a musical void in the African-American community and provide entertainment. In many ways, they copied the upbeat style of the famous concert bands of the time.”
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the early jazz musicians were self-taught and didn’t play from written music. Instead they learned tunes “by ear,” by listening to others play them. The style of the day was “collective improvisation which means that everyone was improvising at the same time,” he says.
Trumpets always played a version of the melody line. “The other instruments all knew what their function was and provided it in improvisational mode. Trombones provided harmonic support and woodwinds added the obbligato,” says Trout. “That style has continued into Dixieland today. Our music is somewhat more arranged but all of the musicians still improvise throughout.”
Legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong typifies aspects of the second major style of jazz as performances evolved to offering soloists a spotlight. “There was more space for individuals to take longer solos,” Trout says.
Bigger bands started to enter the scene as well and groups of instruments demanded a different level of musical organization. Things changed rapidly as more and more white musicians were drawn to jazz and music started to be written down. “With the larger groups of instruments in a band, the style that emerged featured groups of ‘like’ instruments always playing together as sections interspersed with the individual solos” Trout says.
One of the tunes on the Oct. 20 concert, “Bugle Call Rag” is believed to have come from the music book of the Fletcher Henderson Big Band, one of the earliest big bands dating to 1923. The tune was later made famous by the Benny Goodman Band who bought Fletcher’s music book and adopted Fletcher’s swinging style of presentation.
Trout says Duke Ellington serves as a great example of the third main style of jazz “in which compositions are more orchestral in nature with different combinations of sounds and instruments, giving each tune a unique sound,” says Trout. “Most writers today use a combination of styles.”
The one element that ties all of jazz history together is the sense of fun that colors it. “From its beginnings, jazz music was entertainment. It wasn’t trying to be art. It was just music people could enjoy listening and dancing to,” he adds.
As part of the evening’s short exploration of jazz history, the Purdue Jazz Band will present a group of new arrangements of jazz fusion selections by the group Steely Dan including “Bodhisattva,” “The Goodbye Look” and “Do It Again.” Steely Dan reached the height of its popularity in the 1970s but churned out hits over three decades with its studio recordings. Trout says the group’s “interesting melodies and sophisticated approach struck a chord, particularly with jazz musicians. Fred Sturm, former director of jazz studies at the Eastman School of Music presents a modern jazz approach in these big band arrangements, yet keeps the spirit of Steely Dan alive,” he adds.
The Oct. 20 “Now & Then” concert is the first of many jazz concerts throughout the 2006-07 season. The next event is “The Unforgettable Glenn Miller” with the American Music Repertory Ensemble and Lab Jazz Band on Oct. 27 in Loeb Playhouse. All the department’s jazz bands have a concert scheduled on Nov. 17, also in Loeb.