Nelson Riddle (left) and Frank Sinatra; jazz has always been a collaborative art. courtesy Matt Micucci

Jazz lives on at the University of Tulsa

TU Jazz Ensemble gave a rousing Valentine’s Day performance.

“I’m regretting taking this article already,” I’m whispering over my right shoulder. It’s 6:50 p.m. and there are about 10 people waiting in the lobby of the LPC. I don’t know why, but we are sitting on a bench taking a couple’s quiz.

I love jazz in the ultimate amateurish fashion. I’ve left every live performance, though, feeling unsatisfied in some way. The power, the zeal, the frantic, manic outbursts of the Bebop era are my craving. I’m a nostalgia freak. I’ll dig this and that and quote Ralph Ellison every once in a while.

I look up at the billing for the show: Valentine’s Day big band jazz concert, 7:30 p.m. The attendees begin walking in with assured, timely steps to the auditorium as my girlfriend berates me for dragging her there 50 minutes early.

We follow a zesty older couple whose peppered hair speaks little to their energy: the gentleman has quite a lot to say on jazz and the skill of TU’s performances. I’m overwhelmed by his enthusiasm.

A crew nimbly finds their way into seats on the right-hand side of the stage, tuning and picking at their guitars as old hands always do. With no introduction, they begin with that hollow, low-gain jazz sound: clean and rhythmic. Three guitarists sit front and center, with an older gentleman on the drums in the rear. The mellow tonations ripple and roll with the ecstatic touch of the ensemble. They open with the old Frank Sinatra classic “Witchcraft.” One guitarist, Derek Kastelic, plays cross-legged with a dazed euphoria: his fingers are creatures of their own, tapping madly every frantic note in “This Masquerade,” an old Tulsa Sound classic. He’s an impressive cool cat practically made for my image of jazz.

The guitarists are ushered off the stage by Sean Al-Jibouri, the director. In a simple swoop, the big band is out blasting “Fly Me to the Moon.” As any true jazz performance should, the song breaks out with multitudinous solos in winding saxophone and trumpet intercourse. Nathan Hairston blares and bellows, his trumpet leaping from his hand. An impressive and extensive solo ensued.

Then Sarah Maud Richardson steps out on to the stage. A slight transportation happens in the sound: what was once a trumpet-heavy big band begins to revolve around the riveting sounds of Sarah Maud’s fluctuating tones. Goosebumps rise along my shoulders and the bouncy, rolling locutions travel along my spine.

Her performance is not extensive but is marked by her classic and impeccable sound — outside of her scatting, which left me feeling a bit queasy.

And with one stern step, Walter White had to blow my damn eardrums out. He rips and shatters the veil of easy listening in the room and decides to ravish our beings with pure, unadulterated trumpet. The apparent modern jazz star beats me into submission with sound and the pick-me-up, whispering sweet nothings in muted intonations. His brutal, shrill, zealous play had me in ecstasies, I think. My significant other would roll her eyes at me every song or so.

Out of nowhere, the brass quiets and a bouncy, sweet piano tinkles out of the left-handed darkness. Sam Parker frantically beats the piano, but releases a smooth, rolling sound so adhesive and solidified I taste it. He’s a high schooler, says Director Vernon Howard, following the song.

The concert ends with a final coalition of singer, trumpeter and band: My Funny Valentine rips and roars and swings all of us onto our feet in quite the finale. With all of the applause around me, I’m still sitting thinking about how I’ll write about the event. It is an impressive display by our very own, and in simple terms, I couldn’t recommend it enough. The colloquial appeal of jazz is not what it once was, but the art has not lost its swagger at TU. It’s all that is American: frantic, zealous and exasperating.

Post Author: Thomas von Borstel