Purdue bands explore wide spectrum of jazz at ‘Super Jazz Jam’
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Putting four bands on stage, and another in the lobby, Purdue Bands’ “Super Jazz Jam” will literally fill every nook and cranny of Loeb Playhouse with jazz grooves at its 8 p.m. Friday, April 3, concert.
Admission is free.
From standards plucked from Broadway musicals to tunes with Latin rhythms and contemporary works, the annual Jam samples a wide variety of music as well as putting a spotlight on tunes by Don Ellis, a big band leader of the 1960s and 70s.
The Purdue Jazz Band and American Music Repertory Ensemble, directed by M.T. “Mo” Trout and the Concert and Lab Jazz Bands, directed by Todd Ward, will be featured.
There’ll even be jazz in the lobby for concert-goers to enjoy while waiting for the main event to begin, says Trout, director of jazz studies at Purdue. The 12 members of Trout’s beginning jazz class will seize the opportunity to present “Take the A Train” and “Song for My Father,” tunes that allow them to gain confidence with their improvisational skills. Music will begin at approximately 7:40 p.m.
First up on the concert stage is the Concert Jazz Band which opens the show with Jerome Kern’s “Ol’ Man River.” A slow-moving tune in its Broadway version, the Dave Wolpe arrangement “is fast and offers a nice wham bang beginning for the concert,” says Ward, a graduate assistant in the band department. The band also performs “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, and the set includes a Michel LeGrand tune “Watch What Happens’ and “Children of Sanchez.” “That’s a fun chart with a Latin groove and spicy solos that you’ll also hear pep bands like Boiler Brass perform,” Ward says.
Each of the sets performed by the four bands on stage has been specifically constructed to be a little program all by itself, offering the kind of variety and challenge a band would put into a competition set, Trout says. “We wanted each band to show off its strengths and give them music they can sink their teeth into,” he says.
The Lab Jazz Band set opens with a Tom Kubis arrangement of an old standard, “When You’re Smiling,” and ends with a Charles Mingus tune “Better Get Hit In Your Soul,” a gospel blues tune that encourages the audience to clap along. It also includes a contemporary Matt Harris jazz tune titled “North Shore Morning” that was commissioned by Chicago’s New Trier High School. The descriptive tune opens quietly with piano and solo tenor sax before a trumpet fanfare heralds the rising sun.
Staying true to their mission as an ensemble, the American Music Repertory Ensemble will explore the music of a specific 20th century American jazz composer. “Don Ellis led big bands in the 1960s and 70s, an era that you don’t think of as a big band era,” says Trout. Inspired by Dave Brubeck and his use of shifting time signatures, Ellis expanded upon that notion with his big band. He’s known for experimenting with odd time signatures typical of folk music from Eastern Europe, Greece and Turkey, and for incorporating the harmonic and melodic elements of that music into new tunes.
“For people interested in experimental big band, Ellis really turned them on,” says Trout. And his band “put on an incredible show with the members dressed in outlandish outfits.”
For the AMRE set, Trout picked three Ellis tunes that reflect his style without going over the avant guarde edge Ellis frequently crossed. His tongue-in-cheek “Last Tangle of Lord Boogie” features tenor sax player D.J. Murray as Lord Boogie in a piece that uses a rarely encountered 9/4 time signature to have fun with tango rhythms. “Loose as a Goose” poses unique musical challenges. “It superimposes five notes over three beats, a great challenge for engineering minds,” says Trout, referring to an academic major common to many jazz band members. Ellis’ “Open Wide” has a samba feel with clapping, whistles, percussion and drums.
The Purdue Jazz Band’s set draws the evening to a close. It opens with “Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla who, Trout says, “is recognized as the master of the modern tango.” It feature alto sax player Drew Damon, winner of the 2009 Sudler Prize as Purdue’s top senior in the arts. The set also includes “Moondance,” considered to be one of the best songs created by the popular 1960s-70s songwriter Van Morrison.
Serving as the centerpiece of the set is David Cutler’s “Bucking for a Buck” which embraces musical styles from hip hop to straight ahead swing. “The melodies implode on each other. It sounds modern but it’s all in traditional jazz style,” Trout says. A swing version of “This Can’t Be Love” closes the concert and puts a spotlight on two students singled out for special recognition at the 2009 Elmhurst Jazz Festival for their solos in this Rogers and Hart classic. Vocalist Darby Brignac will be featured along with Jake Noparstak on tenor sax.
One more jazz concert remains in the 2008-09 season. All the bands featured at the “Super Jazz Jam” can also be heard at Jazz on the Hill, an outdoor concert at Slayter Center slated for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 26.
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