features

A Chilly Night of Jazz

Emmanuel Petrov ‘23
Staff Writer

“Ah one… ah one, two, three, hmm!” echoed throughout the frame of Brooks Concert Hall as conductor, Mike Monaghan, swayed his index finger to the downbeat of a classic sweet ole Jazz melody. Entranced by the idiosyncratic finger movements and timbres of the performers, it was as if you were lounging at a Deco-style diner or a New York City hotel lobby listening to the sound of bebop over the ceiling speakers. Were it not for the performers’ contemporary outfits, this concert could in most ways be rendered as a historically informed performance. Joined by featured artist and international saxophone player Ken Reid, the Holy Cross Jazz Ensemble immersed the audience with jazz styles of the past century as they performed pieces that portrayed the instrumental transformation of this culturally-imbued genre of music. 

It would be repetitive to describe this concert as “groovy” or “upbeat” considering that most quality jazz performances share the same qualities. What made this concert so noteworthy was its ability to translate conventional standards of jazz music into a present-day appreciation for the genre, while making it historically informative and interactive. After performing an introductory piece by renowned American composer Neil Hefti, Director Monaghan proceeded to give a brief description of the ensemble and the theme of the concert. The ensemble was comprised of 5 saxophones, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, and a rhythm section composed of a piano, guitar, tuba, and drum-kit. Together these performers represented what is known as a “big band” of the mid 1900’s. The program continued with various excerpts from the era of big band jazz music, including vibrant pieces such as “A Night in Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie, “Big Mama Cass” by Don Sebesky, and Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade.” Dennis Liu’s trombone solo set the tone (pun-intended) for the rest of the solos as he abruptly maneuvered the main slide of his trombone to a syncopated melody representative of most jazz music. Each performer played their own solo, which had its respective timbre and original quality based on personal improvisation. Impressively, each soloist expressed their creativity under the few measures they are individually allocated in the piece. In reference to the solo, Monaghan claims: “that it does need organization,” but nevertheless emphasized its dependence on improvisation. Although free-flowing in nature, these solos held a certain structure that made them appear pre-arranged. As a result of this seamless execution by the soloists, most of the audience would not have realized this distinction if Director Monaghan did not disclose the prevalence of improvisation near the opening of the concert. Both Director Monaghan’s eager appeal for the audience to applaud the soloists along with Reid’s constant smile of validation toward his stand-partner spoke to the quality of the performers, especially if you were not acquainted with live jazz performance and could not immediately recognize the performers’ impressive skill set. As much as jazz music is a grassroot social phenomenon, it is also a liberal genre that adopted essential melodies from similar genres like blues, bebop, and swing music along with more deviant genres such as rock n’ roll. The emergence of rock n’ roll n jazz is symbolically manifested through Will Griffin’s rhythmic accompaniment on the bass guitar — a staple instrument of rock n’ roll — in Don Sebesky’s “Big Mama Cass.” In addition to Monaghan’s periodic historical references in between pieces, the technical aspects of the pieces were greatly accentuated with call and response motifs, and circle-of-fifths chord progressions. Ultimately, this annual Winter Concert occurs during a convenient time prior to final exams in which we, as students, should glean the same creativity depicted in the solos. In the same way the soloists improvised in the midst of a greater musical structure, we should also find moments of expression and creativity, even in the midst of the routine and structure of final grades and assessment-related pressure. 

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