LUJE shifts style to pay tribute to Miles Davis

Amelia Perron

The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Band will be traveling back in time Friday, March 2 in their all-Miles Davis concert.
The Jazz Band, directed by Associate Professor of Music Nick Keelan, will play several of the pieces for which Davis is best known.
LUJE, directed by Professor of Music Fred Sturm, will recreate the landmark 1957 album “Miles Ahead,” with Associate Professor of Music and trumpet teacher John Daniel playing Davis’ solos.
According to Keelan, the concert is part of a Lawrence tradition to have historical jazz concerts during winter term, giving the musicians a chance to study the playing of jazz greats.
“We’ve studied his style,” Keelan explained, “emphasizing improvisation and being true to how Miles would have played.”
The experience is proving beneficial. Said trumpet player Adam Meckler, “It is preparing me to be a leader both as a player and an educator.”
While Keelan promised that “everyone [in Jazz Band] will solo a lot” in the concert, all of the solos in the LUJE part of the concert will be played by Daniel.
Although the majority of Daniel’s solos will be his own improvisation, he plans to “think like Miles.”
He explained, “The biggest challenge I face in this role is one of stylistic maturity and efficacy. In this style period, Miles never used any more notes than necessary.”
The original album was the product of a close collaboration between Davis and arranger Gil Evans.
“‘Miles Ahead’ was the first concept album developed around the sound and character of the soloist, not the composer,” noted Sturm.
The style and instrumentation of the group will offer a new sound for this performance.
The Jazz Band will keep its traditional big-band instrumentation to play arrangements of the original small-group compositions, but LUJE will add new members to imitate the group used in the original recording.
“The colors in this music are extraordinary,” Sturm remarked, noting the addition of French horns, tuba, bass and drum set and the absence of piano and guitar.
“For us in the jazz department, preparing “Miles Ahead” is like preparing a chamber music concert,” Sturm continued.
“I’m hoping we’ll sound more like the wonderful Lawrence Wind Ensemble than we will the Jazz Ensemble for this program – that’s how different the program is for us.”
French horn player Anna Suechting, who is joining LUJE for the first time, commented, “Every horn player should have experience playing jazz but we don’t often get the chance.”
The junior added, “I feel really lucky to be able to play with [LUJE] and recreate such a classic jazz album.”
Veteran LUJE members share the sentiment. Said fifth-year trombonist James Hall, “Listening to ‘Miles Ahead’ is like getting a yogurt enema: it’s cool, smooth, very refreshing and often surprising.”
“I’ve conducted “Miles Ahead” with pro bands in New York, Germany and Denmark,” Sturm concluded, “and every occasion has generated new discoveries in these magnificent scores. ‘Miles Ahead’ represents the pinnacle in the art of jazz composition and arranging.

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