By Miguel Gonzalez
Purple lights gleamed low in anticipation at Kendall Hall on Nov. 17 as the night’s musicians finished warming up for the College’s Jazz Ensemble.
The ensemble sent Kendall back to the ’70s with its performance of Thad Jones’ “Us.”
During the song, the percussion set the tempo for the saxophones and trumpets. The ensemble then went into full swing on Mark Taylor’s “Boptitude Test.”
Benjamin Franco, a junior music education major and alto saxophonist, played the first solo of the night. He had the audience in awe of his skillful playing and wide tonal range.
The rest of the saxophonists and trumpeters followed Franco’s solo and pitched in for the high notes. The next piece, Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas,” featured more solos and involvement from the percussion. Music director Gary Fienberg was a big fan of this musical selection.
“If you were stranded on an island, this record is the only thing you need,” Fienberg said.
The flute section of the ensemble then performed Pat Methany’s “First Circle.” The flutes crescendoed along with the melody while the saxophonists clapped their hands.
The middle of the piece featured more of the trumpet and saxophone players, who harmonized perfectly with one another. One of ensemble’s newest musicians — freshman electrical engineering major and trumpeter Matt Zidar —captivated the audience with his powerful sound projection.
The ensemble concluded the first half of the show with Duke Ellington’s “Ko Ko.”
The song felt different from the other selections because different parts of the ensemble worked together seamlessly, according to Fienberg. After a 15-minute break, the ensemble brought out the best of Harlem jazz with Jerome Kern’s “This Song is You.” Kern made 30 records under Blue Note Records during the ’50s and ’60s, which was the only label at the time that paid studio musicians, according to Fienberg.
The ensemble transitioned into a bumpier tune with Bud Powell’s “Celia.” Fienberg described Powell as a pianist who strived to improve his music while enduring mental health issues.
The song started with the trombones sassy tone under the rhythm of repetitious woodblock and snare hits.
The ensemble added some extra energy to the stage while performing Nat Adderley’s “Jive Samba.” During the performance, all eyes were on Rider University alumnus and trombonist Devon Wheeler (’17) as his instrument erupted with commanding melody.
While on stage, Wheeler found it strange to be a performer rather than an audience member.
“Going back to play onstage felt different this time,” Wheeler said. “Not so long ago, I was getting back with the rest of the audience at another show. It’s a different atmosphere.”
The student-musicians finished off the night with a bursting performance of the classic piece, “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
The musicians were excited to share their love of jazz music with an attentive audience. Franco felt grateful for the chance to perform, despite any pre-performance jitters he may have had.
“I get nervous before arriving on stage,” Franco said. “That’s when I remind myself to make the most out of a performance no matter what happens.”