BU Jazz Band is back to perform in person, launching the weekend for family and friends – The Daily Free Press
Boston University jazz groups were busy polishing their sets in the BU Bands building at 300 Babcock St. ahead of their first in-person concert since COVID-19: The Jazz Showcase, on October 21.
The groups performed tonight at the College of Fine Arts Concert Hall at 8 p.m., with performances from the BU Big Band and two Jazz Combos. A livestream of the event is also available online for those who cannot attend.
Since the auditions for the BU jazz groups in early September, each group has been working on this showcase, their mid-semester performance. Jazz Combos – smaller ensembles ranging from a trio to more than seven or eight musicians – rehearse twice a week.
The band rehearsals focused less on replaying the songs to perfection and more on building the tunes they chose until they were molded into a set-worthy piece. Warren Levenson, music speaker and director of Jazz Combos, said experimentation is an essential part of jazz.
“It’s really about experimenting in the rehearsal room and making something emerge, almost by your own power,” Levenson said. “It’s pretty exciting … you never know when a good idea is going to pop up.”
Levenson has been leading BU’s two jazz combos since 2015. Recently the two combos have worked with a mix of songs ranging from Miles Davis ‘”Solar” to Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, songs that vary depending on the instruments and playing styles.
Instrumentation fluctuates every year as it depends on who is auditioning, but most bands have a collection of horns, chord instruments like guitar or piano, and a rhythm section with drums and bass.
Rithvik Doshi, a second year computer science student in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, plays the baritone saxophone in one of the combos and the Big Band. For him, jazz is trying new things and seeing the results.
“I feel better when I play jazz because it’s a lot more improvisational,” Doshi said. “I could rightfully claim that a lot of the music I make while playing in the jazz band or the jazz combos is my music.”
For Doshi, playing with a larger collection of musicians also makes for more grandiose performances.
“In jazz music, I think it’s the band and it’s the vibe that makes the music shine more than the individual skills of the player,” said Doshi, who will be one of the seven saxophonists of the Big Band.
Led by Aaron Goldberg, director of Athletic Bands, director of Big Band 1 and music speaker, the Big Band is a larger jazz ensemble made up of 19 musicians from different sections.
The Big Band prepared four pieces for the show, including a composition written by Gil Evans for Miles Davis titled “Boplicity” and a modern arrangement of “A Night in Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie by trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman.
“It’s just high energy, high intensity, lots of notes, bombastic Latin rhythms,” Goldberg said of the melody. “The audience should be carried away at the end. “
The number of musicians per section changes with auditions, but this year’s group has five trumpeters, five trombonists, five saxophonists and four in the rhythm section. Goldberg said there was so much talent in the auditions that “it made it really difficult to form the band.”
“What I like the most is the caliber of the players,” said Goldberg. “He’s maybe the best overall talent in every section… Things started to fall into place so quickly that I was running to bring them more music because they were digesting it so quickly.”
For all three groups, the showcase is a great welcome to perform. To comply with COVID-19 protocols for the past year and a half, the Big Band was only allowed to play in groups of 10 and was unable to practice as a full group. Eventually the band took a break from playing as the rules for playing wind instruments changed in February of last spring.
Jazz Combos spent most of their practice time discussing the genre of jazz itself and working the best they could on Zoom. Levenson said that because band members sent audio recordings back and forth when they were virtual, the combo became less of a jazz band and more of a “recording project.”
“It was a whole different beast,” Levenson said. “Nothing like what we’ve ever done and nothing like what we’re doing now … But [now] we’re actually playing live music face to face and it’s pretty fantastic to come back to that.
As all the groups practice together again, the excitement for the first live performance was palpable.
“Last year was obviously great to play, but I didn’t think the excitement and intensity was there,” Doshi said. “But I can tell you that [now], I’ve been really excited, especially since our last two rehearsals… and we can’t wait to share what we have for you.