By Gary Kehoe
Smooth saxophones, hot percussion and cool bass transported the Kendall Hall audience back to Kansas City and the days of Count Basie, when swing and jazz were king, on Thursday, Nov. 17. The TCNJ Jazz Ensemble, fronted by special guest saxophonist Seamus Blake, presented a tight medley of contemporary and classic jazz. Both promising and professional musicians combined for a great night of music.
Gary Fienberg, the ensemble’s director, began the night with a simple 4/4 snap of his fingers. With the beat set, he swung it over to a talented ensemble that carried the night much on its own.
Fienberg offered brief cues and introductions, yet for much of the performance stood stage-side, joining the audience in foot-tapping admiration of a wonderful sound.
A ’50s classic by Frank Foster called “Shiny Stockings” featured a chipper solo by trumpet section-leader and sophomore music education major Bruce Krywinski. A rendition of Bob Mintzer’s more contemporary piece, “Carla,” highlighted junior biology major Michael Readinger on piano, freshman music education major Dave McNally on bass and section leader and senior special education and psychology double major Stephanie Semanoff, who mastered a saxophone solo.
Fienberg reclaimed center stage to introduce the next piece, which solidified the night as one of professional quality. The song, “Mr. Fien,” was written by Jeremy Fletcher, a College alum now living and working in the midst of the New York jazz scene. Fletcher, who made the trip from New York City to see the band’s performance, declared, “It was wonderful. They did a tremendous job.”
Fletcher and the audience got a special treat, as it was on this number that the night’s special guest, renowned saxophonist Blake, took the stage. The prominent New York-based tenor saxophonist added a professional swagger that translated well through the ensemble.
The saxophonist’s performance with the ensemble was certainly a privilege for the music program. Senior marketing major Zach Sollitto took it upon himself to call Blake in March of last year, requesting the honor of performing with him in his last concert before graduation. Blake responded in June, and with the help of Fienberg, the music department was able to make it happen.
“To equate it to sports,” Sollitto said, “it was like getting to pick up Derek Jeter at the train station and drive him back to campus to have a catch … definitely the highlight of my college music career.”
The jazz ensemble said farewell to two of its veteran saxophonists, as both Sollitto and Semanoff will graduate this year. One hopes to see these two join accomplished alumni like Fletcher in future audiences, watching their own compositions performed by a new ensemble.
The band closed with a fast shuffle piece entitled “The Git,” lead by drummer Ed Weldon. Weldon cut loose and ripped a fiery percussion solo, capping a night of splendid soloist performance.
Fienberg introduced the song as a classic “barn burner,” designed to “chase the audience out of the theatre.”
Despite this, Thursday night’s appreciative audience stayed long after the last symbol crash for pictures and autographs.