Section: Arts

From vocals to scales, jazzy tunes fill Rosse Hall

From vocals to scales, jazzy tunes fill Rosse Hall

by Elana Spivack

Rosse Hall was swinging last Sunday night, Feb.9. The Kenyon College Jazz Ensemble, directed by Professor of Music Ted Buehrer, presented an unabashedly brassy program that flooded the hall with vivacious music, drawing the audience into the delightful din. The set featured an array of big-band-style jazz songs, from Count Basie to Ella Fitzgerald. Each piece sparked with its own personality — granted, some more than others — never allowing for a moment of boredom in the audience. The music didn’t draw the audience in so much as overflow from the stage, filling the hall with every punctuated beat.

The evening started with “North Clearwater Stomp” by Dominic Spera. This upbeat starter instantly grabbed the audience’s attention, giving us an idea of what was in store for the rest of the night.  Drummer Sam Graf ’16 rapped out improvised rhythms; his confidence and quick-handedness behind a drum set made his playing both fun to watch and listen to. The song featured Alex Pang ’15 on alto saxophone, his solo sharp and clean, and his longer runs were impressive. Noah Weinman ’16 on trumpet followed him, contrasting the saxophone with a more buxom, brassy sound. Chris Schwarz ’15 finished the piece on the tenor sax, distinguishing himself from the first solo in both sound and style.

After an introduction from the director, the band launched into “O.W.” by Mary Lou Williams, an “unsung hero” in jazz, as Buehrer described. Jake Biel ’17 on the tenor saxophone laid out a smooth solo. The third piece, “Miss Missouri” by Benny Carter, caught my attention. This sexy piece, one of 10 suites in the Kansas City suites, showed off Ted Meyer ’15 on trombone. His brazen solo stood out; his trombone skill, visible to the audience, was just as impressive as his slick, quick-moving segment. Jason Cerf ’15 on piano got a chance to shine with a lively, sparkling solo. Emma Munger ’14 on guitar added a cool contrast, her intricate finger picking was attention-grabbing.

“Fables of Faubus” by Charles Mingus and arranged by Sy Johnson came with a story, but also a distinct personality. Buehrer explained how the song was written in protest after Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus prohibited African-American students from attending Little Rock High School during the Civil Rights Movement. He described the piece as “sarcastic, almost mocking,” and made sure to note that at the top of the sheet music the word “Sardonically” was emblazoned, denoting how to play the piece. Cartoonish and captivating, this political piece said it all. Jacob Williams ’14 on baritone saxophone had a distinct, resonating refrain that acerbically depicted the sour potency of Faubus. The piece alternated between a slower, brassy sound and a more fluid one, representing the governor’s “big, bad wolfishness.” The unity of the band seemed most apparent here; in such a large group with so many complex components, it’s easy for songs to seem fragmented. In this piece, the different groups supported each other — the bass and drums backing rhythm, the brass and saxophones creating a near-jerking sway that developed the entire character of the piece.

Turning away from politics, “Strasbourg/St. Denis” by Roy Hargrove and arranged by W. Scott Gwinnell beamed with sound and toe-tapping rhythm. Featuring an at first simple piano part, Cerf initiated what would be a charming piece that demanded dance; even the movements of the musicians were more exaggerated as they kept rhythm. Meyer on trombone once again took a solo, this time keeping with the undeniable, carefree vivacity. Graf’s extensive drum solo provided a change of pace and sound from the piled-high harmonies from the woodwinds and trumpets.

Starting with “A Tisket A Tasket” by a teenage Ella Fitzgerald and Al Feldman, the band was joined by Ellen Hoffman ’14 on vocals, adding a wonderful new layer to the music. Her smoky mezzo voice matched perfectly with the band, though she was occasionally drowned out under the accompaniment. She improvised beautifully through a scat portion, though climbing higher into her range, approaching a screaming belt. Aaron Stone ’14 on trumpet joined her, playing a crisp solo to relieve her for a bit.

Next, “How Insensitive” by Antonio Carlos Jobin, Vinicius de Moraes and Norman Gimbel, and arranged by John Clayton, provided a much-needed switch from upbeat big-band, settling into a slower style. With her voice and subdued demeanor, Hoffman set the new mood as a spurned, bitter lover. The evening finished with “Every Day (I Have the Blues),” with Cerf on vocals. This cool, snazzy song paired despairing lyrics with swinging accompaniment, including choreographed trombones. As the night wound down, the band had instilled in the audience revitalization and spunk.

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