Seeing a group of Marines in their dress blues generally means you’re going to watch them take part in some sort of military exercise or march. And during the whole thing, you’re thinking of how terrifyingly serious they look, your feelings about America, or just how bored you are. Even with a band accompanying them, generally Marines in dress blues don’t break into saxophone solos. It’s just not done.
Last Tuesday, however, the United States Marine Corps Jazz Band visited TU to play six compositions. The band was composed of a saxophone, guitar, bass, trumpet and drums, all of which were played by officers of varying rank. The small size of the band lent itself to a personable, unique experience peppered with several memorable solos.
The piece which introduced the band, Maceo Parker’s “Chicken,” previewed what was to come. It started as a melody of the instruments and gradually faded into various solos. The trumpet stood out, piercing the auditorium and requiring your attention.
As it was only one of two wind instruments, it was always noticeable. Having only two wind instruments meant that there wasn’t always a meshing of winds in the background, like many jazz pieces. The trumpet and sax sounded competitive at times, each vying for attention, because there just wasn’t a huge amount of similar sounds to meld together. These two, however, had no trouble keeping the swing alive.
Nevertheless, the instruments bended together well. They flowed in and out of solos, which showed off the talents of each player. Energy from each carried into the others; most obvious during a saxophone solo in “Whisper Not.” As the sax player fell deeper into an emotional solo, the bass player followed suit. At this, and other points in the performance, it was easy to get confused over how such sternly dressed men had a capacity for soul.
The songs chosen also ended up highlighting, to a certain degree, different instruments. In the final piece, “Mr. Clean,” for instance, the bass player hit and finger-plucked his strings, which gave the composition a sort of modern-rock feel. It was an inventive use of the bass, created to deal with the small number of players.
If there was a tone to the night, many of the pieces were reminiscent of theme songs. The second piece, “El Gaucho,” with its breezy lightness and occasional high trumpet notes, reminded me of a 80s cop show introduction. And in “Whisper Not,” the trumpet whistled and the piece sounded like a noir detective movie. This added to the character of the night, and further blurred the edge between Marine and soulful musician.