Academy Jazz Band Channels Historical Jazz Greats

The Academy Jazz Band brought listeners on a pulsing journey through the worlds of jazz masters such as Duke Ellington, Benny Carte, and Red Garland in its concert this past Sunday. Passionate concert-goers found they were tapping their feet and swinging to the beats during the concert. Irina Dobrina, mother of a local middle school trombonist, said, “I think it was a great concert. I feel that it was prepared really well, and there was such a beat feeling when they play. They really enjoy it, they love doing it, and it comes across.” The program opened with a sextet playing Red Garland’s “Blues by Five.” The players alternated in solos, with Sam Weiss ’09 keeping a strong, steady beat on the drums. Later, Peter Cirelli, Instructor in Music, directed the entire Jazz Band in the upbeat “Symphony in Riffs” by Benny Carter. Musicians took turns standing up and improvising solos. Particularly notable was a virtuosic saxophone phrase by Andrew Ang ’09. Ang’s passion, virtuosic notes and sound projection added to his well-fit improvisation. Another highlight was “Launching Pad” by Clark Terry and Duke Ellington, which featured a trio and Brendan Casey ’09 as the guitar soloist. The buoyant mood relaxed in Ellington’s laid-back, mellow “Sophisticated Lady.” Ryan Furlong ’09 improvised on the bass saxophone. At times, the band overpowered the soloists, especially those with lower tones such as the trombone. Aside from balance, the alternating improvised solos were nearly flawless. The drums kept a pulsing atmosphere that was at times enthusiastic and at other times laid-back, leaving the chapel vibrating with beats. The improvisations flowed freely with appropriate spontanaeity. Cirelli said, “The moments for improvisation are usually specified in the piece already, because the piece has what’s called an arrangement…” Improvisation requires a strong foundation in music theory, not to mention the courage to make up a creative phrase on the spot. Cirelli said, “They need to learn what notes are in the chords and what scales fit those chords, and so I do give them some instruction on that.” The students also have access to a computer program that allows them to practice playing along with a virtual band outside of rehearsal. Next, the concert featured the entire band in Juan Tizol’s “Moon Over Cuba,” which transported the audience to the warm Caribbean islands. The grand finale was “Perdido” by Lengsfelder, Drake and Tizol. Saxophonist Andrew Li ’10 said, “I think we did pretty well. There were some little bumps along the way, but…in the end, it kind of came together, and we did fine.” He added that he wished there had been more audience members. Trumpeter Ian Sigal ’12 said he was a little nervous when playing his solos, though he has performed several before. All in all, he said, “I think that the concert went really well…I was proud to be in the jazz band.” Ang, who plays three instruments – flute, piano and saxophone, compared playing in Symphony Orchestra with playing Jazz Band. “I think it is pretty different stuff, but I like it all.” Dobrina is a fan of classical music, but she appreciates jazz as well. She said, “I think jazz gives expression to some deep feelings. Sometimes it’s a different level of feelings than classics. It allows [one] to express more of natural movement of the body and movement of the soul also.” Cirelli said that in the limited rehearsal time, the band is always “working on improving our ability to do many things: to read music, to play together, to play the styles, because there are various style periods in jazz. So all of those things are ongoing.” But he added with a chuckle, “We do have fun; we laugh a lot, and we work hard too.”