Have you ever wanted to experience music that was unhindered by constraints and open to deeply intricate improvisational styles? Have you ever wanted to listen to solos from saxophone, keyboard, drums, clarinet, or trumpet that make you want to move to the music or sit fascinated by each sound? Are you a fan of jazz collective Snarky Puppy? Do you appreciate talented musicians and vocalists? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you would have loved the Jazz Band concert that took place on May 4th in Oates Theater.
The concert consisted of both the Middle School and Upper School Jazz Bands performing a variety of pieces. Each piece featured different soloists who used the music within the composition to improvise and play in a new way, while also staying true to the original piece. The Middle School Jazz Band has six members, and the Upper School Band has a group of fifteen.
Two of the pieces that were performed in the concert were student-conducted. The first piece, “21st Century Schizoid Man” by Robert Fripp and King Crimson, was conducted by saxophonist Spencer Rider (‘17), as well as being showcased earlier that day in an Upper School assembly. This progressive jazz-rock piece started off the Upper School portion of the concert with energy and expression. It showcased several talented soloists and had members of the audience tapping out the rhythm from their seats. In addition, Match writer and cellist Destana Herring (‘17) conducted “Easy to Come Home,” an R&B and soul piece (originally by Dojo Cuts) that featured his younger sister, Salem Herring, (‘19) on vocals. The combination of the instrumentalists and the beautiful vocal riffs from Herring made the song speak to the talent of those performing on stage.
When asked about what it was like to conduct a piece for the concert, Rider stated, “It was a really interesting experience. [Conductors] are in charge of so many moving parts.”
Another standout piece of the evening was the jazz/pop standard “The Girl From Ipanema.” It featured the Upper School Jazz Band as well as vocalist Matthew Barbieri (‘19) who performed the song in both English and Portuguese, switching between the two languages with ease. In addition, “Sleeper” was another of my favorites due to the interesting use of technology, such as the Talk Box played by Zach Moelchert (‘17), as well as the subtle build to the music with a dramatic and haunting ending. The concert finale was The Meters’ funky classic “Hey, Pocky Way.” This jazzy and upbeat tune featured many different improvising soloists, as well as members of the Middle School band. It was a great way to end the concert.
When asked about his favorite part about the Jazz Band, clarinetist John Bullock (‘17) stated, “My favorite part is that we get to pick our own music a lot, and we do a variety of styles of jazz, from big band to fusion. Also learning how to improvise has definitely been really fun, as there’s no real rules but you get to express yourself however you want.” In addition, Rider stated, “I like that we get to work on music that is a lot less formally organized than orchestra. With jazz band, you are able to mess around with the music.” Lastly, guitar and keyboard player Ashray Namala (‘18) stated, “Jazz band has given me the opportunity to get so much better at guitar, listen better, and become a better musician overall. I love every second of it.”
Various members of the audience had enthusiastic things to say about the performance. Upper School English teacher (and Match adviser) Vlastik Svab stated, “I wish I was as good as anything as Zach Bostic is on the drums.” Bobbie Edmunds (‘17) stated, “The jazz concert was such a blast! They’re such a talented group, and so great at what they do! I always love watching them perform.”
When asked about what he wants to be the greatest take away from the concert, MS/US Jazz Band teacher Bryan Hooten stated, “I want people to see another side of their friends that they don’t get to see all the time. My favorite thing about jazz band is getting to know the students by how they play. I think you can learn a lot about a person through how they play, improvise, and how they choose to play. I would encourage everyone to take this opportunity to get to know your friends better. Not only this, but I think the music that the band does is very exciting, thought-provoking, and moving.”
You can watch the entire night’s performance HERE, and I would highly recommend going to the Jazz Bands’ concerts in the future. It is incredible to see all of the musicians working together to create an outstanding performance that displays all of their hard work and talent. You can also catch the Upper School Jazz Band in their finale performance this year on Thursday, May 11, at Richmond Music Hall, the music venue attached to Capital Ale House, at 623 East Main Street in downtown Richmond. They’ll be opening for Shaun Martin, the keyboardist for Snarky Puppy.
All photos by Vlastik Svab.