By Jared Wolf
An impressive crowd assembled in the Kendall Hall Main Stage Theater on Friday, April 7, for the Jazz Ensemble’s annual spring performance. From nostalgic swing-era tunes to placid hard bop ballads, the concert recreated the sounds of a big band in the golden era of jazz.
The show was broken up into a swing section and a hard bop section as a homage to college big band performances in the ’50s, according to Director Gary Fienberg, who has also been a music professor at the College for 16 years.
The audience was taken back to 1938 with the first piece, a sharp rendition of Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” The music of New Jersey legend William “Count” Basie lives on in his home state.
The next part of the show dove into the works of a contemporary of Basie’s — piano virtuoso Sir Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone,” “Koko” and “Caravan.” The ensemble played its own off-script interpretation of the last jungle-themed number.
Between compositions, Fienberg recounted the astounding vision of young African-American musicians in the swing era like Basie and Ellington.
The latter half of the pieces incorporated works from composers Juan Tizol and Benny Carter.
Ben Franco, an alto saxophonist and a junior music major, enjoyed playing Benny Carter’s “Amoroso,” due to its “fusion between Latin American rhythms and traditional swing.”
Franco found that the piece “allowed (him) to speak my mind as well as soul.”
The power of storytelling through music was especially true for Franco, who played two heartfelt, improvised solos throughout the evening.
“Soloing is like telling a story between the soloist and the audience,” Franco said.
After intermission, the performers ventured into the ’50s with a lively section of hard bop pieces.
The first piece of the second half, “Moanin’,” by Bobby Timmons started with a smooth piano riff, followed by a shout chorus with blaring brass that illuminated the concert hall.
Senior music education major Ryan Galik, primarily a saxophone player for the College’s Wind Ensemble, shared his love for playing piano in the TCNJ Jazz Ensemble.
“What’s most different about the jazz ensemble is the opportunity for freedom of expression,” Galik said. “The rhythm section especially gets to build off each other and communicate on every chart we play and make some really special things happen that just can’t happen in other ensembles.”
The second half of the show was filled with funky bass lines, swift drum beats and thunderous horns.
The show continued with two Horace Silver classics. Fienberg found Silver’s pieces to be “hard, cool renditions of the blues.”
Dominic Spera and Jerome Richardson’s “Trumpet City” and “Groove Merchant” concluded the evening by bringing the audience back to another time and place in music history.
The Jazz Ensemble’s performance, a success that could make proud department founders and jazz legends alike, coincides with the year of the College’s Music Department’s 100-year anniversary.