For their Winter Term performance, the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE) took on Benny Carter’s “Kansas City Suite” on Wednesday night in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Carter, well known in the music world, has arranged and composed primarily jazz music across many different platforms. He gained popularity for his big band compositions, but also became prominent in studio work, collaborating with some of the most recognized names in jazz like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstong and Sarah Vaughan. Eventually, he even made his way to the film and television scene, using his versatile talents for musical arrangements in large productions. Carter was also a skilled instrumentalist, becoming an influential alto saxophone player in the era of swing.
“Kansas City Suite” was originally performed by the Count Basie Orchestra in 1960, and served as the model for the students in Jazz Band. Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación, the ensemble’s director, said the group was inspired by the record and their goal was to capture the essence of the recording through the transcription of the suite. In particular, he wanted to recognize the piano players, freshmen Joe Coman and Dylan Borash, for attaining the style of Count Basie in their playing.
The entire “Kansas City Suite” consists of ten movements, all of which were played by the ensemble. They started with “Vine Street Rumble,” moving through the tune light-heartedly. It was the kind of song that you would like to stroll down a street to on a summer day. The brass section was sharp and snappy and gave it a strong feel. Freshman Jasper Kashou was the first to solo on tenor saxophone. The energy from the group was evident, as they blew the first few rows of the audience back with their sound.
At a tad slower of a pace, “Katy-Do” featured Kashou again, as well as senior Ricardo Jimenez on trumpet. When the reeds came in, there was a slinkier feel to the piece with the way they curved into their notes together. If this song were to have been a kind of walk, think of a laid back saunter. After that, freshman Evan Snoey and Kashou entered with a smart tenor duet in “Miss Missouri.” As they went in, the trombones echoed faintly, creating depth in the piece. Snoey then performed his own solo, which was subdued and allowed for space, an impressive feat. Another freshman, Ryan Saladin, performed a solo on trombone as well.
“Jackson County Blues” started with a bang and was followed with clean execution from the band. The fun tune was completely energizing and went out with a bang just as soon as it had started. Then, “Sunset Glow” glided in, with a welcome contrast in tempo. The sweet, skating song gave the feel of dancing with a loved one. Sophomore Jacob Dikelsky elegantly walked on and through the chords of the band during his solo on trombone. Even director Encarnación was moved by Dikelsky’s performance, giving him a handshake after the piece was finished.
Onto the sixth movement, “The Wiggle Walk” sounded like what nightlife in a city feels like: a bit flirtatious and coy. Both brass soloists, sophomore Matthew DeChant on trombone and senior Adrian Birge on trumpet, came to crank it out, allowing their big sound to take up the whole chapel. Slowly the band quieted, just to hit the audience with a zinger.
“Meetin’ Time” came as almost a surprise compared to the rest of the suite. The way the chords moved came across almost like a pop song, something similar to the progression of a slow Beatles song. The trombones, who carried the melody, had a certain lyricism to the sound, like they were singing. Then they shifted back into big band territory with “Paseo Promenade.” The small punches of sound between outbursts of brass and saxophone mixed perfectly. With a great driving beat, the piano built off of the same energy the band had. The last two movements, “Blue Five Jive” and “Rompin’ at the Reno,” were a testament to the fun the group was having while up on stage. The ending was loud, spectacular and everything that a suite should end with. Catch LUJE next Wednesday in the chapel for more jazz on campus.