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Jazz Ensemble concludes year with an off-beat flourish

The spring concert grooved with Hank Levy’s “Whiplash” and a number of jazz standards

Professor of Music Ted Buehrer opened up the doors of Rosse Hall on Sunday afternoon, hoping sounds of the Kenyon Jazz Ensemble spring concert would reach students lounging outside.

The 19-person ensemble directed by Buehrer performed eight pieces, from “Pennies from Heaven,” featuring the crooning vocals of Lily McBride ’17, to the group’s closing song, “Whiplash” by Hank Levy, arranged by Erik Morales. The group brought some funky flavors in the song “Basie-Strait Ahead,” with electric bass and metallic-sounding keyboard contrasting some more traditional jazz pieces like “S’Wonderful” — a romantic tune with vocal solos from McBride and old-school lyrics that rhymed  such words as “glamorous” and “amorous.”

Levy’s tune “Whiplash” inspired the title of a 2014 film of the same name, which tells the story of the relationship between an intense, abusive music instructor and an ambitious young drummer. The movie brought attention to the song, which Levy composed in the 1970s. Sterling Nelson ’16 suggested the piece for the ensemble; he first learned “Whiplash” with his high school jazz ensemble, and thought Kenyon’s jazz group would enjoy the challenge. The song has a complicated, counterintuitive beat structure that does not follow the standard 4/4 time. To the average listener trying to tap their foot along to the beat, it might sound rushed and unpredictable.

“It feels a little bit disorienting and it feels a little bit like every measure there’s a hiccup or it doesn’t feel like it flows in the normal way that we listen to so much musically in 4,” Buehrer said before the show. “And yet at the same time, if we perform it well, which I think we will, it’ll still groove.”

Groove it did. After the concert ended, guitarist Andrew Clarkson ’16 said the band’s energy and execution was strong, in part because of their trip to New Orleans over spring break. “It was just really awesome to go listen to music and experience the city,” Clarkson said. “It brought us all together, [and] probably helped us to get to the point we were today.”

In New Orleans, the ensemble had the opportunity to play with other college jazz groups. The group received feedback during a performance in front of a panel of professional, local jazz musicians, and also played outside in a well-trafficked area of the French Quarter. This experience, according to Buehrer, fostered greater camaraderie and musical talent in the group as a whole as they looked ahead to their spring concert.

This concert marked the close to six seniors’ Kenyon jazz careers. Nelson, one of these six, viewed the concert as a bittersweet ending. “When I came to Kenyon I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to continue music into college,” he said. “I’m not a music major, I mean, I play for fun, but that’s about it, and I’ve been really fortunate to be involved in both jazz ensemble and symphonic wind ensemble all four years here.”