NIU Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble “travel” the world through music – Northern Star


Madelaine Vikse

The NIU Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble held their first concert of the semester on October 6 at the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall. (Madelaine Vikse | North Star)

The NIU Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra held their first concert of the fall semester on Thursday.

Led by Professor Rodrigo Villanueva Conroy and graduate teaching assistant Austyn Menk, the Jazz Ensemble opened the concert with “Hay Burner,” a painting by Sammy Nestico.

“I missed the music,” said DeKalb resident Tim Schultz. Schultz came to watch his sophomore music student son Jared perform. “It’s good to be back,” added Schultz.

After the saxophone solo and trumpet solo in “Hay Burner”, the band moved on to their second song, “Beyond the Limit”, a composition by Bob Mintzer. The set’s third song, “A Child is Born”, written by Thaddeus Jones, was slower than the first two songs. The song began with a piano solo that turned into a flugelhorn solo by trumpeter Olivia Garcia.

“We worked on these tracks,” said Garcia, a junior music education student. “When we get up there, I think the energy will be there, and then we’ll just execute it well.”

Paisley Stevens, a junior music student, said she attended the gig because she plays jazz and hopes to join the band next year. “There’s so much crazy stuff on the Thad Jones charts, it’s fun to hear,” Stevens said.

The Jazz Ensemble ended their set with “Boplicity,” made famous by Miles Davis and written by Cleo Henry and Gil Evans.

“It’s not good to swing!” said Jazz Orchestra director and professor of jazz studies Reginald “Reggie” Thomas after taking the stage.

Menk hit the opening chords to Freddie Green’s “Corner Pocket (Until I Met You)” and the Jazz Orchestra was underway.

Going into the next song, Thomas announced a project that the jazz department is starting. This year, the bands will “travel” through music to places that helped shape jazz, according to Thomas.

Figuratively, Thomas took the band to New Orleans and introduced them to Louis Armstrong through a song written by Armstrong’s second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque.”

The song centered on a trombone solo by Kirby Fellis, a second-year graduate teaching assistant, who sounded straight out of a New Orleans second line. His simplistic melodic progression and intense dance spirit filled the room.

In a post-show chat, Fellis and Menk talked about their favorite parts of the show.

“It’s inspiring to play with people like that,” Fellis said of his performance.

Menk responded by saying, “That’s what this is about.”

Sophomore music graduate student Evon Sams’ smooth alto sax shone in the band’s slowed-down version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The ‘A’ Train.”

The concert ended with another musical holiday led by Thomas, this time in Trinidad and Tobago with the song “Calypsoscope” composed by Matt Harris. “Calypsoscope” featured Sams, Menk and guitarist Jackson Wheeler, a young music student.

For those who attended the concert for loved ones, the music played a part in the decision. Junior music student Amanda Perez came to watch her boyfriend perform.

“I’m looking forward to jazz,” Perez said. “It’s good to hear something different from everyday music.”

The NIU Jazz Ensemble will have their next concert on November 14 and the Jazz Orchestra will have theirs on November 17.

To students who were considering coming to these shows, Zaire Burks, a sophomore in music, said the show was “a concert to go to. If you like good music, know that it’s on your campus.

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Henry R. Wright