Faculty Jazz Ensemble: The Other Side of the Story

Typically, jazz concerts are held in smoky, cramped clubs, with spotlights on musicians as they play through the night. Phillip’s Academy’s most recent concert was held in the middle of a drizzly Sunday afternoon in the Timken Room of Graves. “This room is very interesting. It has great acoustics, but it’s not your traditional jazz venue,” said guitar teacher Raleigh Green, packing up after the second faculty jazz concert of the year. Green said that one of the challenges a jazz musician faces is “create an intimate atmosphere conducive to interaction, regardless of the setting.” The faculty performing in the concert overcame this challenge with their very first note. With an initial lively burst of music, a sextet opened the concert—Vincent Monaco on trumpet, Joel Spring on saxophone, Peter Cirelli on trombone, Bob Baughman on piano, David Zox on bass and Bertram Lehman on drums. The music evoked images of an era filled with swing-dancing and flappers, and the energetic undercurrents of the bass and the sultry tone of the trombone captivated the audience as the band played Dave Holland’s “Homecoming.” After the intermission, some faculty members returned to the stage for a second time, while others were new faces. The first song after intermission was “Turn Out the Stars,” a song written by Bob Evans in memory of his father. The song included only David Zox on bass, Bob Baughman on piano and Bertram Lehman on drums. The drums imitated the patter of rainfall while the piano descended scales. After a short break, the audience welcomed Raleigh Green and Peter Cicco on guitars, David Zox on bass, and Carol Chaplin on drums. This last quartet brought a modern sound to the concert with pieces such as Joshua Redman’s “Hide & Seek” and “John’s Waltz.” The concert contained throwbacks to various movements in jazz, but was primarily contemporary. The improvisational unison in “Homecoming” was pioneered first in the 1920s and is considered to be a trait of more traditional jazz. Still, the ensemble did its best to “mix it up,” said Green. The program included “John’s Waltz” and “Ana Maria,” two very modern jazz songs, and the concert closed with “Midnight Mambo,” which was intended to add flavor to the song selection. The Faculty Jazz Ensemble banded together to choose these songs—each person first contributing a song or two. The ensemble then played through all of the songs, and final decisions were made based on the best contrast and the players’ comfort with the songs. The ensemble is organized primarily by Peter Cirelli, a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and one of Phillips Academy’s primary authorities on jazz. The idea for a Faculty Jazz Ensemble was sparked by the realization that the school has a very extensive music program with a large number of faculty members involved in jazz, which thus far had been underused. “During lessons, I don’t get ever get a chance to hear him play like that, so it was very impressive,” said Taryn Ferguson ’10, who takes guitar lessons from Green. The shift from classroom to audience was shared by many of the people in attendance. Many of the feet tapping and heads bobbing belonged to students of the performing faculty members. “With live music, there’s something that communicates to people something deeper,” said Zox of the concert. On the concert and its location, Green added: “Jazz music in general… the success of it depends on a mood and a vibe, which is influenced by surroundings. It’s always an adventure.”