Jazz Showcase: Mixed Bag highlights student talent

 (Toshiyuki IMAI/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Toshiyuki IMAI/Flickr Creative Commons)

Music filled the von der Mehden Recital Hall Thursday during the UConn School of Fine Arts Jazz Showcase: Mixed Bag. The event featured seven University of Connecticut jazz ensembles, showcasing all the talent the university has to offer. Each group performed two songs and featured a number of different jazz instruments.

The first group to perform was the Jazz Lab Band. Directed by Doug Maher, the group played Sammy Nestico’s arrangement of Count Basie’s “Hay Burner” and Bob Mintzer’s “Weird Blues.” Jazz Lab Band was by far the largest group to perform, consisting of 19 different musicians. Between the songs, Maher spoke on the importance of Jazz ensembles, stating that over the past few years he has seen a definite increase in the number of ensembles at the middle and high school levels.

Fusion Combo, also directed by Maher, immediately followed the Jazz Lab Band. Their first song, George Duke’s “Capricorn,” was slow and smooth. The song gave almost all of the group members a chance at a solo, showing off each musician’s talent. Their second song was “Palm Grease” by Herbie Hancock. “Palm Grease” started with just Steve McArdle on drums, slowly adding the other instruments as the song went on.

C.A.L.F., directed by Earl MacDonald, gave an incredibly interesting performance. Their first arrangement, a medley of Nat Cole, featured a hauntingly beautiful cello and trumpet duet. Their second performance also stood out, as it was a four-movement, improvised suite, which meant the entire song was improvised by the musicians. Whichever instrument started the movement would set the tone, prompting two of the other members of C.A.L.F. to chime in and try to match their improvisation.

Doug’s 7:30 Combo, directed once again by Maher, began their set with a stunning rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly.” While each musician put on a highly enjoyable performance, the song truly showcased the talents of guitarist Yeats Bramble and baritone saxophonist Frank Sternberg. Before leaving the stage, the group finished their set with Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil.”

Next up was Gregg August’s Tuesday @ 5:30 Combo. The group began their performance with Kenny Dorham’s “Escapade,” which heavily featured tenor saxophonist Rich Sadlon. Without skipping a beat, the group immediately moved onto their second song, Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge.”

The second-to-last group to perform was Tuesday @ 7 p.m. Combo, directed once again by August. Tuesday @ 7 p.m. Combo started with Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” Owen Bonaventure gave a noteworthy performance on the drums, filling the room with infectious and palpable rhythm. Danny Fryer on the piano also gave an energy-filled performance during this song.  Tuesday @ 7 p.m. Combo closed with Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father.”

The final group to perform was the UConn Jazz 10tet. As the name suggests, the UConn Jazz 10tet featured 10 musicians, many of which had performed earlier in the night. The group’s set featured the arrangements of Rob McConnell, who played alongside UConn jazz students at von der Mehden a number of years ago, according to MacDonald. Trumpet player Grant Eagleson was prominently featured in their first song, a performance of McConnell’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Always.” The final song of the night, McConnell’s arrangement of James Van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love,” showcased the talents of two members of the 10tet. These musicians, guitarist Tom Bora and tenor saxophonist Kevin Duffy, were both UConn seniors, making this one of their last performances with the Jazz ensemble.

Fourth-semester music theory and history major Jack Nighan  said he particularly liked the variety of performances throughout the night.

“There was a good variety of different styles of jazz and eras over the course of the program,” Nighan said. “It changes so much over the course of the concert, from small groups to the big band.”

Madison Ruta, a fourth-semester vocal performance major, said he believes that students from all majors and disciplines should attend future jazz performances.

“There’s a lot of non-music majors up there,” Ruta said. “So it leaves it open for a lot of audience members to come from different departments from campus.”


Lauren Brown is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lauren.brown@uconn.edu.