Students shine in small jazz groups

Sonia Emmons

Three jazz ensembles filled Harper Hall on Monday, Feb. 19, with scatting, clapping and improvisation that brought the finely dressed men – and two finely dressed women – multiple rounds of applause.
This jazz small groups concert showcased the Lawrence Conservatory’s seasoned jazz musicians playing several different kinds of jazz.
To begin the program, the eight-member Redunkulous Jazztet presented four hummable selections, two of which were arranged by members of the group: “The Backbeat” by trombonist Evan Jacobson and “Whoopin’ Blues” by saxophonist Ross Catterton.
Both Jacobson and Catterton expressed enthusiasm for the musical liberties that small-group jazz playing enables musicians to take.
Catterton observed that while “the focus in big bands is to tighten the ensemble, in small jazz groups you are afforded more opportunity and stretch out and improvise.”
Jacobson agreed, adding, “It’s a great way to apply the improvisational techniques that we learn in studio to our ensemble playing.”
The second group to perform, the Blissful Nonet, began their set by clapping a unison rhythm that was picked up by the drums and eventually the rest of the players.
The group appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, as their name would imply. Perhaps this can be attributed to what drummer Reed Flygt described as the “organic” nature of jazz music.
“With improvisation, it’s all happening in the moment,” said the junior. This does make playing in a small jazz group more difficult, but trying to follow people, or in effect “walk the tightrope,” is part of the fun, according to Flygt.
Concluding the program was the Mark Urness Sextet. Looking sharp in all-black attire, the group played three songs with their usual style and ease.
The group’s eponymous bass player arranged the last song, titled “This Thing,” played after the ever-popular “What Is This Thing Called Love.”
The Redunkulous Jazztet and the Blissful Nonet, two groups directed by Instructor in Music Lee Tomboulian, both included vocals and guitar, in addition to the standard small jazz group instruments: saxophone, trombone, trumpet, bass, piano and drums.
The two women in the concert, Jane Hulburt and Emily Fink, performed vocals for the first two groups, respectively.
Their scatting generally doubled the melody heard in the brass. “The voice essentially acts like another horn,” explained Jacobson.
The performers agreed that there is a creative aspect unique to jazz music. While playing classical music involves reading music and interpreting it, “jazz is about creating something off the page,” remarked Catterton.
What’s more, small ensembles require more interaction between the players. “Small groups tend to be friendlier, more intimate,” said Flygt.
Between weekly rehearsals and performances both on and off campus, group bonding becomes a significant activity. For some musicians, working with other students is the most rewarding part of the experience.
Jacobson serves as proof. When asked what he enjoys most about playing in a small jazz group, he simply replied, “Standing next to Ross Catterton.