For my third concert report, I attended Umass Amherst’s Jazz Lab Ensemble, which was directed by Graduate composers, Brian Martin (G’19) and Haneef N. Nelson (G’20). The concert also featured the Chapel Jazz Ensemble, which was directed by David Sporny, who is both the founder and the musical director of the Amherst Orchestra. The performance took place on Tuesday, December 11th, in Bowker Auditorium. The concert included twelve songs and lasted approximately an hour and forty-five minutes. The first half of the concert consisted of six songs, which were performed by the Jazz Lab Ensemble, and following the brief intermission, the remaining six songs were performed by the Chapel Jazz Ensemble.
The performance embodied many different variants of jazz, all the way from Calypso, Afro-Caribbean tunes to ‘loose’ swing classics and consisted largely of upbeat, euphonic chord progressions and catchy melodies.
This concert also incorporated, not only songs that were influenced by Count Basie, but also his methodical piano style, the emphasis and priority on the rhythm section, and of course his fusion of blues and jazz to establish the notorious ‘swing’ music style.
Count Basie is considered one of the “all-time greats” as a bandleader and a pianist, therefore it does not surprise me that most of the concerts I attended this semester, had even the slightest relation to Basie, or the characteristics/techniques that helped define his talent on the piano and stage.
The first song of the concert that caught my attention was, “Lil Darlin,” by Neal Hefti (1992-2008).
This song showcased the quintessential slow swing arrangement that Count Basie was often known for. It would make sense that this song depicts the typical characteristics of Basie because Hefti actually arranged this ballad for the Count Basie Band, who then introduced the song in 1957. This song includes a slow, simple and soft tempo, that allowed much of the attention to be put on the delicate piano tune and the muted trumpet solo. The mute on the trumpet made it sound as though the trumpet was being played from a much further distance away than it really was. The technique of the muted trumpet can compare to the 1939 song, “Moonlight Serenade,” by Glenn Miller. Both swing ballads feature a muted trumpet solo that is removed later in the song, as well as a slow tempo that allows for dynamic changes throughout the entire song. Although the two songs do not share a definitive composition, the expertise used to carry out this muted trumpet technique is very similar.
Another song featured in the concert was, “Sandu,” by American trumpeter, Clifford Brown. This song features an intimate melody with a trumpet and saxophone duet at the top of the tune and then returns with the duet again, at the end of the song. This duet can either be read, or improvised, which enables unpredicted rhythms and almost a different performance every time the song is played. One song this reminded me of was “Weatherbird,” by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. Both “Sandu,” and “Weatherbird,” feature a boisterous mood that leaves a playful and joyous feeling with the audience as they listen along. The pianists in both songs were also very skilled. Earl Hines, the pianist in “Weatherbird,” was known for his “trumpet style,” playing on the piano, mimicking the single notes style of performance, much of which I believed the pianist of “Sandu,” did. While I was listening, I could tell that all of the instruments were interacting with each other very well, almost as if they were trading musical ideas as they were performing.
The third song of the night that caught my attention was “Dreamin’ Out Loud,” by Bob Washut. This song is often referred to as a “Latin chart,” that is remindful of calypso tunes. Calypso music is a type of Afro-Caribbean music that started in Trinidad during the early 17th century. It was guided by African slaves as they were transported to Caribbean islands as indentured servants to work on sugar plantations. Here, the slaves were stripped of all connection to their homelands, so they used calypso to mock, and mimic their slave masters, as well as to communicate to one another. “Dreamin’ Out Loud,” features a foot-tapping beat that is both high-spirited and catchy. The musical dialogue between the drums and horns is also very explosive, but captivating. The overall beat of this song reminds me of “Manteca,” by Dizzy Gillespie. Both songs have that Afro-Cuban/afro-Caribbean sound and they both have a rhythm of sort that one finds humming to themselves days after originally hearing it. “Dreamin’ Out Loud,” also brings to mind the songs that originated as the roots of jazz, otherwise described as, African American jazz. Although the characteristics of African American jazz don’t necessarily follow the characteristics found in this song, the two do share a similar background as to why they were played/sung. “Arwhoolie,” by Thomas J. Marshall Edwards was also a field holler or work song that slaves would use to communicate with each other and keep themselves occupied, just like the Caribbean slaves did in the 17th century.
Another song featured in the concert was “Miss Missouri,” by Benny Carter, which was played by the Chapel Jazz Ensemble. Benny Carter was an American mulit-instrumentalist, arranger and bandleader. This song was composed by Carter, but recorded by Count Basie on his album, “Kansas City Suite: The Music of Benny Carter.” The song features solos on the piano, tenor saxophone and the trombone, which creates a concentrated, soft and modern take on swing music. Out of all the songs we have studied this semester, “Miss Missouri,” reminded me of “Line for Lyons,” by Gerry Mulligan. The two songs have a soft underlying tone that allows the talents and sound of each instrument to show through.
In general, this concert consisted of characteristics of those associated with Count Basie. The piano was very prominent throughout the entire duration of the performance, which gave a soft, but lively and vibrant overall feeling to the concert. The difference between the Jazz lab ensemble and the Chapel jazz ensemble also felt like I was able to see two concerts at once, which was also very entertaining.