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Local jazz band lights up Notre Dame

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Don Savoie band. While the name may not ring a bell with the average Notre Dame student, its musical talent and prowess is undeniable.

Made up of members of the Notre Dame community, the band plays a variety of contemporary songs, ranging from the famous to the obscure. Its sound is a mixture of blues, bass and rock and roll – creating an enjoyable experience for listeners.

The group’s latest performance was Saturday night at the Bookmaker’s Pub. Playing to a packed audience consisting primarily of Notre Dame students, Frontman Don Savoie and his band easily kept the crowd entertained with a vast library of songs and abilities. They played songs by famous musicians, such as Tom Petty, but they put their own spin on the music, often taking time to simply jam.

Savoie, an adjunct Notre Dame music professor for the past six years, is a veteran musician and blues player. He led the band through the night’s selections using a variety of instruments, including the guitar, harmonica and keyboard. He also provided the primary vocals, spoke to the audience directly between songs and boosted audience involvement with the performance.

His experience consists of 35 years of musical work in various parts of the world. Attending the University of Michigan, he learned blues and jazz in Detroit. He then went on to play music abroad in Europe, and has played with such performers as Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Backing Savoie were several proficient musical members from Notre Dame. Consisting of members from the student group “Appetite for Destruction,” Matt Marnocha, Uel Pitts and Brendon Collins demonstrated great stage presence and complimented each other well. Their diverse experience, ranging from Battle of the Bands to the recent production of “Footloose,” was evident as they performed with Savoie.

Matt Marnocha played the guitar to great effect, and showed his ability throughout the night in a variety of complex songs. Playing the bass commendably was Uel Pitts, who provided back-up vocals in several songs to Savoie. Providing the rhythm for the band was Brendon Collins on the drums, who entertained the audience with an extended solo midway through the night.

Each of the members of the band had a moment to shine as the night progressed, as the music they played kept space for improvisation and soloing. The band obviously enjoyed performing together, and the enthusiasm proved infectious, spreading to the crowd and boosting the overall performance.

The evening broke down into several segments. During the rests, Savoie and the rest of the band would mingle with the crowd, chatting and having a good time. They were personable and friendly, creating a casual environment with listeners.

Audience participation was obviously high, to the point that one of Savoie’s students, junior Tom Huffman, contributed his abilities with the guitar midway through the performance on a couple of songs. Savoie said such participation is common fare for the band, as students often play contributing roles in the band.

Overall, the performance was a success and enjoyable for everyone in attendance. The music selection was exemplary, as well as the musicians who performed it.

Future performances include opening for Pat Green in the Stepan Center April 7, and an April 22 reappearance at Bookmakers. Fans of jazz, blues and music in general would do well to watch for Don Savoie, and the veterans of “Appetite for Destruction.” A more enjoyable experience would be hard to find.