UConn Jazz reminisces on pivotal musical styles of the 1960s

UConn Jazz Combos transformed von der Mehden Recital Hall into a New York-style jazz club and brought listeners back to the “Swingin’ Sixties” Thursday night. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

UConn Jazz Combos transformed von der Mehden Recital Hall into a New York-style jazz club and brought listeners back to the “Swingin’ Sixties” Thursday night.

Several student-run jazz ensembles performed a collaborative recital featuring jazz pieces they had been working on this semester. The program was titled “The Swingin’ Sixties” and featured works written by key jazz composers and musicians of the 1960s.

The image of the 1960’s vibrant and transformative spirit was epitomized through jazz and Thursday’s concert was UConn jazz students’ way of recognizing that through paying homage to the iconic musicians of the jazz genre.

“It was also good that the program showcased different styles within the jazz element. You had some pieces like ‘Nature Boy’ that have transcended the jazz medium to some fun electronic experiences with the solos in ‘Lorraine,’” T.J. Del Conte Jr., a sixth-semester music history major, said.

The first combo began the evening performing “Mr. Syms” by John Coltrane and “Lorraine” by Ornette Coleman.  Both pieces were reflective of more relaxed rhythm and blues jazz. As with many of the pieces of the night, featured solos were passed throughout each ensemble with each musician trying to catch the attention of the audience. During the middle of guitarist Tom Bora’s solo, he crouched down to a pedal to add a more eerie and metallic tone to his guitar playing.

“Interplay” by Bill Evans was the next piece to be performed and helped introduce the next ensemble to the stage. This combo’s second piece “Passion Dance” by McCoy Tyner was a dramatic shift from the soothing, slower music of the opening three pieces. “Passion Dance” increased in tempo with a driving rhythm and featured an aggressive baritone saxophone soloist throughout.

The next group to enter the stage was called “C.A.L.F.” The first piece they performed was an original work by UConn Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies Earl MacDonald. His piece, entitled “Looking Forward, Looking Back,” represented the “musical freedom and musicality of the 60s,” fourth-semester music major and trumpet soloist Braden Frandino said.

The piece developed around a trumpet solo which utilized different performance timbres and techniques such as brassy fanfares to muted trumpet with a bluesy feel.  

For MacDonald, seeing his own original piece performed on stage was an interesting opportunity to get to know his students as performers by listening to “how they interpret the piece differently than how [he] envisioned it.”

“The piece began as a score of all cartoon drawings,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald mentioned it is the lead trumpet who helps guide the audience as well as the ensemble through this musical story.  

“The piece is filled with contrasts and musical contrasts from the fanfare calls to the march to hints of tango,” MacDonald said.

C.A.L.F Jazz Combo closed their set with a Nat King Cole medley which spanned different branches of jazz including swing and Calypso and Latin-style grooves.

The next two pieces performed were “Adam’s Apple,” another upbeat tune, followed by “Footprints,” a piece building around a quoted melody from “So What” by jazz icon Miles Davis.  

Fusion Combo then entered the stage to close out the program. They first performed “Proto-Cosmos,” which was the audience’s first taste of a funk and fusion-style jazz piece. The piece was fast and filled with energy. Two of the featured solos included an electric keyboard and electric guitar, rounding out the fusion style of the piece.

Fusion Combo pulled the audience a long even faster with the final piece of the night called “Teen Town” by Jaco Pastorious.  The piece was centered around a musical conversation between the featured saxophone and trumpet soloists, who went back and forth pushing the tempo and musical boundaries of the piece right through the final down beat.

For UConn music students, much of their classroom content is centered around the early music and Western art forms such as classical music. The opportunity to perform or enjoy jazz music is more limited.

For Del Conte, having the opportunity to spend his evening at a jazz concert got him away from the books and helped him appreciate music solely as a listener, he said.

“This was a chance to get out of what I’ve been doing in my classical training, which I see more as part of my profession and education, and get in touch with what helped draw me to music in the first place,” Del Conte said.


Lucy Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.