The Academy Jazz Band and Ensembles Performance Features Smaller Groups for Students to Explore Creative Freedom

In the upbeat melody led by saxophones and trumpets, the Academy Jazz Band closed off the Jazz Band and Ensemble performance with “Slo-Funk” by Bob Mintzer. According to Peter Cirelli, Director of Jazz Band, “Slo Funk” was one of the songs he used to play in his professional band, and he hoped that students would enjoy playing it. Cirelli states that this year’s band members are especially skilled, and many soloists were able to show their virtuosity during the challenging sections of the piece.

“The band was good and the small groups were good [last year], but [now] that we are working together without the Covid-19 restrictions that we had last year, the groups have been able to grow much more. We’re also right now enjoying having lots of really talented students here on all different instruments, so the quality of the students in their skill level has increased and that makes the group better,” said Cirelli.

The performance took place on Friday, May 20 in the Cochran Chapel and consisted of different parts that showcased small groups before merging into a bigger group in the end. According to Cirelli, the smaller groups gave the musicians more responsibility and freedom.

“[T]hat is common with smaller groups, that there is no conductor or director upfront. Quite often in jazz history, one of the members of the group was the leader and they might make more decisions than other people, but these groups were coached by myself and Mr. Baughman and Mr. Zox and we made some decisions and we always encourage the students to make some decisions, and then collectively decide how they want to perform. So, it gives him more responsibility, but also more opportunity to be creative,” said Cirelli.

This decision to form smaller groups and ensembles indeed helped students take charge of their own roles as musicians. Pianist Constantine Krenteras ’24 describes his first experience playing in a smaller group compared to more traditional jazz bands.

“I really enjoyed it because it’s a very different experience from playing in a big band. You carry a bit more individual weight, but you also have more freedom to do what you want. [In the small group], we get to choose how we want to start and how we want to end it. You get to decide on solos, so it’s mostly up to us how we want to do something,” said Krenteras.

Another goal of this particular performance was to showcase contemporary and unconventional forms of jazz to the Andover community. Funk and fusion, which is the combination of jazz and rock, are two specific examples found in the performance. Alto saxophonist John Mo ’24 expresses that he wants performance to not only serve as an outlet for his expression, but also a space to prompt audiences to further explore jazz.

“ If I want the audience to do anything, [I’d like them to] maybe just start listening to more jazz. I know some people that aren’t in the jazz band and don’t play any instruments [but] still listen to smooth jazz or something in their free time. [I’d want them to] just try different styles—there’s a lot of different types of jazz—and get more exposure to [it],” said Mo.