Jazz Weekend brings big names and students together

Jake Cihla

This weekend, the Conservatory hosted yet another successful Jazz Celebration Weekend, an annual event designed to bring some of the biggest names in jazz to the chapel and immerse middle and high school students in a weekend of jazz.
At the intermission of Ingrid Jensen’s concert Saturday night, Director of Jazz and Improvisational Music, Fred Sturm, explained that his original idea behind jazz weekend was to create a non-competitive environment in which bands can both receive feedback early in their year and get excited about jazz by seeing a slice of the Lawrence jazz department, and to bring professional jazz artists to campus.
Over the 28-year course of the Jazz Celebration Weekend, thousands of students have visited Lawrence and some prolific names have graced the chapel stage, including Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Michael Brecker, Dianne Reeves and many others.
This weekend followed in the same tradition, bringing over 900 students, performing in both Vocal and Instrumental Jazz Ensembles from nearly 35 different high schools to campus, together with an impressive collection of clinicians. Headlining the weekend were performances by Grammy Award-winning vocal group New York Voices and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.
Opening for New York Voices Friday night were the Lawrence Jazz Singers performing the music of the legendary vocal group Rare Silk. They opened with the tune “Joy!” followed by “You Know It’s Wrong” featuring vocalist Kelly Eisenhower, and Rare Silk founder, composer and arranger, Todd Buffa. Both of these tunes found the jazz singers in fine form, and I was very pleased with the overall sound of their ensemble.
Following those tunes, the jazz singers performed one of my all time favorite songs, “Red Clay” by Freddie Hubbard. Unfortunately, I felt the jazz singers took the song a bit too fast to establish its fundamental groove.
Those who remember Professor Lee Tomboulian’s performance with Wycliffe Gordon several years ago will remember how perfectly he imitated the style of Oscar Peterson during several songs. Lee once again showed how he is able to perfectly imitate a wide range of styles, taking an excellent solo on “Red Clay” in the style of Herbie Hancock.
Following the introduction by the jazz singers was an absolutely outstanding concert by New York Voices. The group, celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, consists of vocalists Kim Nazarian, Peter Eldridge, Darmon Meader and Lauren Kinhan. The group’s set list shined light on some less-heard tunes from the Great American Songbook, a collection of music that, most unfortunately, goes unheard at Lawrence as it has been pushed to the back of the shelf by the more progressive genres of jazz.
The group opened with the tune “On A Clear Day,” featuring solos from all members. Following that was the tune “Darn That Dream,” which featured Eldridge and Darmon.
Other highlights from the first half included “Love You Madly,” which featured Kim, and “No Moon At All.” The latter featured absolutely amazing harmonies. It seemed as if the group had magically been able to reduce an entire big band horn section into four musicians plus rhythm section. It was truly outstanding.
Concluding the first half were two original compositions, “For All We Know,” by Eldridge and “The World Keeps You Waiting,” from Kinhan.
Opening the second half was the Oliver Nelson tune “Stolen Moments.” Audience members were treated to a preview of the Saturday night concert as Ingrid Jensen joined New York Voices for this portion, playing a gorgeous solo on this haunting tune.
Following this outstanding beginning, the group continued with the Simon and Garfunkel tune “Baby Driver,” an a capella piece, “Stoned Soul Picnic” and an original by Kinhan, “As We Live and Breathe.” New York Voices follows in the tradition of two pioneering vocal groups, and it is only fitting that they paid tribute to one of them, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, by performing the vocalise tune “Jackie.” This tune featured Kim taking an excellent scat solo, although I found myself waiting for her to push both the upper and lower ends of her register. Concluding a truly epic performance was the tune “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.”
Saturday began with a performance in Riverview Lounge by all of the jazz combos. As always, this event allowed those in attendance to witness the incredible wealth of talent in the jazz department; one of my favorite pieces from this portion of the weekend was an atonal interpretation of the classic jazz standard “There Will Never Be Another You” performed by the Lee Tomboulian Jazztet.
Following the small group concert, the Lawrence Jazz Workshop, under the direction of Nick Keelan, provided music during the lunch that was provided to all the visiting students. This set opened with the original composition “Skyhawk” by Fred Sturm, continued with several arrangements the great jazz classics “Footprints,” “Con Alma” and “Work Song,” and concluded with the tune “El Caborojeno” by Bob Minzer.
Saturday afternoon’s performance featured the clinicians from the jazz weekend performing with the Lawrence Jazz Band under the direction of Patty Darling. Opening the concert was the classic Fletcher Henderson arrangement of the Jelly Roll Morton tune “King Porter Stop.” This tune featured Dario LaPoma, playing Jelly Roll’s complete transcribed piano solo, and Paul Feeney, playing a beautiful Dixieland style clarinet solo.
Unfortunately, the rest of the piece was rather unimpressive as it lacked the drive and excitement that was present in the other tunes. This is not to say this style of music is at fault. I’ve heard this same arrangement performed before by a professional band and have seen how much life can be played into this tune. I feel that the Jazz Band was severely out of their element and simply lacked the frame-of-reference required in order to properly interpret this music.
The concert continued with piece by the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, arranged by and featuring clinician Ellen Rowe. In addition to the students, Rowe took an excellent solo, which took the audience members through several different styles of block chording and fit very well within this soulful tune.
Following that was the tune “Desert” by clinician Tom Davis, which reminded me of something one would have heard from Woody Herman’s Thundering Heard of the 1970’s, and an arrangement of a Piazolla tango, “La Camorra” by Fred Sturm. This last piece was rather interesting, as each repetition of the theme began at a tango tempo before building and accelerating to an absolutely frantic pace, although it, at the time, reminded me of something one would hear at the annual UW Varsity Marching Band concert.
The remainder of the concert included a Sturm original, “Cerulean Sky,” featuring Jos****accent e****, Encarnac******accent e*****n on sax and two new arrangements of old standards, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” featuring Brad Curran on Trumpet and “Hot House.”
Concluding yet another successful Jazz Weekend was the Saturday night performance of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen playing two sets, one featuring the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble and the other with the faculty jazz quartet featuring professors Lee Tomboulian, Mark Urness, Dane Richeson and Tom Washatka.
Opening the concert was “At Sea,” a piece that was written by Ingrid and arranged by Fred Sturm that she wrote while on her honeymoon, traveling on a boat through the Northwest Passage. From the outset, it was obvious that this was not going to be your average concert.
This piece was further characterized by an outstanding solo by Jensen that reflected her impressive melodic awareness and her incredibly clear high notes. In addition, the band morphed through many contrasting styles, finally concluding the piece returning to the aural image of the seashore.
The remaining tunes in the set included the a new arrangement of the Mary Lou Williams tune, “Gloria,” which had an incredible groove an
d featured impressive solos by Eli Wallace and Dan Watkins, the ethereal “My Sunshine Connection” written for Jensen by Bob Florence and the tune “Didgeridoo” by Fred Sturm which featured Dean Brian Pertl on didge.
The second half of the concert, featuring the faculty jazz trio, opened with an incredibly complex arrangement of “The Night Has 1000 Eyes” in 7/4. The group then moved to the piece “Seafever,” which was a floating Latin tune composed by Ingrid’s sister on which Dane moved from the drum set and used traditional percussion instruments. Speaking of her playing, trumpet performance major Carl Kennedy noted how he “loves how many colors she was able to use in just one small group tune. She used both trumpet and flugelhorn in addition to a wide variety of mutes and electronic effects that allowed her access to a very large depth of expression that most trumpet players do not utilize.”
Concluding the concert were two pieces; “Earth Signs” was written by Ingrid for trumpet great Woody Shaw and, via an outstanding piano solo by Lee, morphed into the final tune of the night, which was “Captain Jon” by Geoff Keezer, and featured solos by all members of the group.
Jensen was not only a phenomenal player, but her arrangements and original compositions were outstanding, and the way she connected with both LUJE and the faculty small group suggested they had been playing together for months or years rather than a few days. Her performance was an exceptional conclusion to an incredibly successful weekend.