Academic jazz ensemble not just for grades

Melodious jazz filled Southwick Recital Hall on Dec. 3 as the UVM Jazz Ensemble Concert performed their major show of the fall semester.The hall was only moderately full, a disheartening sign for anyone hoping for greatness However the band would soon prove themselves worthy of a more packed house.The big band ensemble, while an academic venture, provides the opportunity for students to both develop their music skills and creatively explore their passion.Its function as a creative outlet became apparent from the start.Dueling saxophone solos from Matt Davide, ’13, and John Curtin, ’10, brought smiles to the faces of the audience and the conductor, professor Alex Stewart.Yet the pieces also often require difficult technical skill.”There’s pressure too. They have to hit the right notes, so sometimes it’s a little stressful,”Stewart said.The band did hit all of the right notes, though, and enjoyed doing it.”The band was great, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t know jazz very well,” junior Ariel Moser said.The ensemble played each piece with the same amount of rigor and passion as their conductor directed them with a vibrant personality.During a rousing performance of Mingus’ “Sue’s Changes,” Stewart mimicked the moody musical mood of the song by touching his fingertips to his head as though he had a headache.The concert also featured the world premiere of a song by UVM professor Patricia Julien. The song was a little more somber than some of the others, but it was nevertheless a hit with the audience.”I really liked the Julien piece,” senior Kenneth Gollins said. “The mood it created, the ominous chords in the beginning. It was just great.”Even with somewhat ominous music, the band seemed happy and interested in playing a piece different from their usual repertoire. The liveliness was tangible and contagious.”It really is a lot of fun,” saxophonist John Curtin said. “I’ve played in the band a couple of times before this year and this is my favorite time playing with it.”While the band is mostly to thank for the great show, there’s something to be said about the choice of music — a choice that fell mostly to Stewart.”I make the initial selections and then listen to what the kids like to play or can play, and choose based on that,” he said.The night’s chosen set list didn’t fit with the jazz tradition of improvisation, Stewart said, so the band scrambled the order to create a more natural-feeling show.Despite the scrambled order, the fun continued throughout the night, and the encore, which Stewart claimed belonged in a scene from “Blazing Saddles,” was an ensemble favorite.Despite the great performance, the event wasn’t well-attended.”Word just doesn’t seem to get out about these shows, the ones in the Recital Hall,” Moser said. But if Stewart and the band get what they want and deserve, crowds will surely follow.