TU’s jazz bands kicked off the spring semester with their Winter Concert last Thursday. The Gussman Concert Hall was mostly full as the concert was beginning, largely comprised of older adults but with TU students and children present as well. The evening began with a five-piece set from the TU Jazz Guitar Ensemble, directed by Jim Bates, and concluded with an eight-piece set from TU Big Band I, directed by Vernon Howard.
The guitar ensemble, consisting of five guitar players, a bassist and a drummer, went through a wide variety of pieces. From fast-paced solo-heavy tracks like Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” to more somber pieces like Jimmy Van Heusen’s “But Beautiful,” the group captured an impressive range of emotions given their limited variety of instruments.
Another impressive aspect of the performance was the quality and variety of solos throughout the set. Each guitarist and the bassist had a moment to shine, with some guitarists like Ben Walker having multiple impressive solos throughout their time on stage. The audience seemed a bit indecisive on whether to clap after the solos or not, though.
The only major issue with the set was that the cymbals from the drums were drowning out the guitars quite a bit. Granted, I was fairly near the back of the crowd, but the drummer’s ride cymbal was carrying much better than any of the guitars, and some of the solos were close to silent at parts. For the most part, however, everything was loud enough to be heard and enjoyable to listen to.
Soon after the guitar ensemble left the stage, TU’s Big Band I began their performance. The brass section was comprised of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, as well as drums, guitars, bass and piano providing a backing. There was fewer soloists in this set compared to the guitar ensemble, though those people typically had multiple excellent solos.
Their set didn’t have as much variety as the guitar set, perhaps due to the composition of the band itself. Most of the pieces were faster and dance-oriented, though there was one slower piece in the middle of the set: “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” by Bob Hilliard and David Mann. This slow, heartfelt track, contrasted with the fast-paced and hedonistic “Smack Dab in the Middle” by Charles Calhoun featured a vocal performance from jazz vocal instructor Sarah Richardson, who provided an excellent performance on the two pieces that required very different energies.
This set had almost the opposite problem that the first had. In the guitar ensemble set, the centerpiece of the performance (the guitars) were difficult to hear, while the brass in the big band performance could easily overpower all of the other instruments. Since the brass were the focal point of the performance, this was a much less serious problem, but I could never hear instruments like the guitars, bass or piano when the horns were in full swing.
Despite some sound issues (which, again, may have been caused by my place near the back of the venue), the performances were engaging and fun to listen to. The next TU jazz performance will be on April 13.