As Harper Hall filled up in the middle of the day on Wednesday, April 15, no one knew what to expect. Yes, most of the audience was familiar with the individuals playing, and yes, a majority had heard the Lawrence University Faculty Jazz Quartet before. However, all 11 of them and the Director of Recording, Larry Darling, coming together to play a show as a whole? Unheard of.
For those unfamiliar with jazz and the jazz faculty here at Lawrence, all of them performing together is unexpected because an ensemble made up of voice, reeds, trumpets, trombone, tuba, cello, bass, guitar, drums, piano and keyboard isn’t a traditional jazz instrumentation. Furthermore, they all come from different backgrounds and styles of jazz, so even if one is familiar with all of them, it would prove difficult to pinpoint what exactly they were going to play.
Despite the bizarreness of this group and its varying histories, all members have at least one connection—Fred Sturm, the Director of Jazz and Improvisational Music at Lawrence University for nearly 30 years until his death this past summer. They all had loved creating music with him collaboratively and decided it would be fitting to continue not only for the joy of sharing music with the audience, but in his memory as well.
Those familiar with Sturm and the rest of the jazz faculty know that the group plays a wide variety of jazz, touching on many sub genres, even multiple ones in the same tune. This concert followed that pattern, containing traditional, straight-ahead standards arranged for the unorthodox ensemble, and also eclectic funky compositions, as well as many other genres. Perhaps the biggest surprise was their closing tune—“Crossfire” by Stevie Ray Vaughn—sung by Darling.
While a 12 piece jazz band of such a unique instrumentation playing a blues rock tune was a bit shocking, there were various other surprises. There was a bizarre but grooving arrangement of “Get Happy,” an introspective composition about moving on and a cover of a sparse, exposed soul song. The huge spectrum of genres the faculty group played together gave the audience an engaging concert and wet their appetite for what will hopefully be a continuing series of concerts.
It was incredible to see all of the faculty—masters at their respective instruments—traverse so many types of music with ease to meet their comrades halfway and create new sounds. Each musician has specific styles and genres that they commonly play, but witnessing their talent of being able to go back and forth was admirable and showed just how much each is passionate about their music and learning other types as well.
This concert was not what I expected, but pretty much everything I wanted to hear, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Fortunately for all of us, the Lawrence University faculty group will continue to play concerts featuring every jazz professor more frequently.