Jazz ensemble students show off skills in packed performance

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SVSU’s jazz ensemble performed various pieces from “The Kansas City Suite” and Thad Jones on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 p.m., in a nearly full Rhea Miller Recital Hall.

The ensemble rehearsed every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the semester for the performance.

The ensemble, including music education senior Holly Finch, worked with Seth Ebersole, the jazz ensemble director and artist-in-residence, to prepare.

“(The rehearsals had) ran smoothly and were actually a lot of fun,” Finch said. “Seth is a great teacher and is able to relate to us as a group. We’re able to have a few moments to not necessarily goof off, but to kind of relax, and he reminds us to just have fun.”

Finch is the ensemble’s lead alto saxophone, an instrument she has been playing for 14 years. She also plays flute in the jazz ensemble and thus is the ensemble’s only “doubler.”
She played several alto solos and features during the performance, most notably in “Isfahan” after intermission.

“I (played) the feature, which is cool, but I’m not one to generally stand in the spotlight,” she said. “I (practiced) it a lot outside of rehearsal with the recording, but it’s nothing like playing with the actual band.”

She enjoyed playing that selection, but it was not her favorite of the night.

“I should say that my favorite is ‘Isfahan,’ which is the piece that features me, but I think the tune I get most excited about playing is ‘Blue Five Jive,’” she said.

The ensemble began the performance with Sammy Nestico’s “Orange Sherbet.” Although the ensemble took some time to settle on a tempo and negotiate the balance between each section, cues from Ebersole helped them quickly find their rhythm.

By the next selection, Benny Carter’s “Vine Street Rumble,” which proved to be an audience favorite, the ensemble was working rather cohesively, and their months of practicing were definitely showing. Several soloists, including Finch on lead alto and Matthew Ingersoll on lead trumpet, came in strong, yet they did not overplay or sacri ce tonality in the process.

Throughout the rest of the evening, the ensemble played a range of selections at different tempos and dynamics, and no section or soloist overpowered another. While background cues could have been more piano while soloists were playing, especially those soloists from the rhythm and bass sections, no soloist was buried. Each section played enthusiastically, yet it was generally not at the cost of the overall ensemble’s sound or a loss of technique.

During each piece, the leads and soloists played confidently and skillfully, as did every member of the ensemble. Crescendos and decrescendos were clear and built up or down effectively.

The ensemble established pianos, mezzo pianos, fortes and the like early on and remained consistent with those levels.

The ensemble started and ended together, which is much easier said on sheet music than performed (and the incredibly well-timed, classic trumpet fall at the end of “Meetin’ Time” was a great way to wrap up that piece cleanly, too). Overall, the ensemble kept the focus away from being about individual musicians and instead created a cohesive ensemble sound.

Kyle Chandler, a general business freshman, came to the event to hear friends in the ensemble. The performance surprised him.

“I haven’t been to a jazz ensemble before, actually,” he said. “It (was) very good. I really enjoyed ‘The Vine Street Rumble.’ I liked the tone of it in general. All the soloists (were) great in all the pieces, too.”

Brandon Stockwell, a biology sophomore, also enjoyed “The Vine Street Rumble.” Unlike Chandler, though, Stockwell had went to the jazz ensemble performance last year and was pleased with how different they sounded than last year.

“They have exceeded my expectations,” he said. “I came last year, and I felt like it was nice – I enjoyed it – but they sounded better this year. I am glad I came out.”