Notre Dame gets jazzed up for 54th Collegiate Jazz Festival
Meghan Thomassen | Monday, March 5, 2012
The 54th Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival rocked Washington Hall Friday and Saturday, bringing together some of the best brass bands from across the country.
The festival featured nine ensembles, including Notre Dame’s Jazz Band I and New Orleans Brass Band. The professional judges, guitarist Pat Martino, organist Pat Bianchi, tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera, guitarist Carmen Intorre Jr. and trumpet and flugelhorn player Bob Lark, also performed Friday night.
Student programmers sophomores Sam Bungum and Rob Martin organized the event. They were responsible for inviting judges and ensembles, as well as planning the event’s logistical details.
“We had a wide range of sounds and combinations to choose from, but it also depends on what kind of experience they’ve had in the jazz world,” Bungum said. “We have to go after multiple people, because some people might have scheduled their events many months in advance.”
Availability might have been one of the biggest difficulties Bungum and Martin faced, but they said they were still able to reserve some of the best jazz musicians in the country.
Martino is a jazz guitarist who dropped out of high school to play jazz in Harlem. By the age of 16, he was performing in one of the most famous bands in New York City and has been playing with the best jazz musicians of the world ever since. Next week, Martino will fly to Dubai to play in the Dubai Jazz International Festival.
Bianchi, one of the best up and coming jazz organists, also performed. Having performed with Martino for a few years, their playing styles complemented each other well.
Intorre Jr. is a drummer who has played in New York since he was young. Martino discovered him at a gig and brought him into the group.
Lark, a professor of jazz studies at DePaul University, directed the honors band Bungum played in when he was in eighth grade.
“I remember working with him and he did a great job,” Bungum said. “He plays in some of the best big bands in Chicago.”
Rivera, a tenor sax player and professor of jazz studies at Michigan State University, was a last-minute addition to the judges’ table. Bungum received news Friday morning that due to health issues, judge Michael Pedicin was unable to attend. Bungum said Rivera dropped everything to perform that night.
“He played extremely well, especially under the circumstances,” he said.
The bands performed a variety of pieces, each characterized by skilled soloists and unified ensembles. The Alma College Percussion Ensemble started the weekend off with a bang — a full steel drum set overtook the stage. The group was synchronized and the beat syncopated. It was a combination of jazz club cool and Jamaican heat.
The Western Michigan University Advanced Jazz Combo featured a top-notch saxophonist and drummer. Their best number was the student-arranged piece “For Harlan,” a wild drum piece that shook the hall.
The Notre Dame Jazz Band I performed with red ties popping against their all-black attire. The group’s program ranged from Duke Ellington to John Clayton to their very own director, Larry Dwyer. Junior vocalist Allison Jeter had the Ella-inspired pipes to steal the show with “Sophisticated Lady” and “A Tisket A Tasket.”
The Alaska Fairbanks Jazz Combo, or UAF Jazz @ Six, had a fantastic, full-bodied sound. Trumpet player Luke Nielsen serenaded the crowd with his solo in “Quiet River” and Keenan McKirgan was brilliant in his trombone solo in “Being With You.”
The Virginia Commonwealth University Small Jazz Ensemble might be small, but their sound was smooth and sultry. A self-directed group, they have five members: tenor saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass and drums.
Campus favorite Notre Dame New Orleans Brass Band, fondly known as MOBB, channeled funk, jive and the famous New Orleans second-line beat into their program, which included the Notre Dame Fight Song.
The Bowling Green State University Lab Band I evoked a hazy, late-night vibe. Alto saxophonists Nicole Hassel and Christine Wehr were the standouts, thanks to their jiving director David Bixler.
Finally, the Virginia Commonwealth University Jazz Orchestra I featured killer bongos and a toe-tapping bass line in each of their pieces, as well as an exceptional lead trombone player and tenor saxophone soloist. As the most visible component of VCU’s music program, the group is comprised of mostly jazz students. Their director was charmingly enthusiastic, gesturing loudly every time a member rocked a solo.
The Judges’ Jam on Friday night was also a shining moment in the festival.
“It was great … absolutely great,” Bungum said. “Pat Martino’s sound is so distinctive and he lived up to one of his nick-names … the fastest guitar player in the west.”
Martino also brought in Lark and Rivera to jam on jazz standards and play solos on a few of his original charts.
“Some of the best jazz in the country was happening right here,” Bungum said.
The festival also had a free clinic for jazz enthusiasts, novices and veterans to interact with the judges about the music.
“One gentleman who’s played drums for 50 years said it was one of the best clinics he ever attended,” Bungum said.
Bumgum was particularly impressed with Martino.
“He talks about music as life. It was very eye-opening,” he said. “Each judge talked about their take on technique or jazz in general and the difference between jazz as a business and an art form.”
Contact Meghan Thomassen at [email protected]