Note-Ably Back: UTC Jazz Band Performs Live Again
Luke Podolsky has been on edge for a few years.
A junior music and instrumental student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, he loved playing in the UTC Jazz Band as a freshman.
Then COVID-19 took the band away.
“I was very worried because Jazz Band has always been my favorite ensemble, and I was afraid the program would never come back,” said Podolsky, who plays trombone.
At the end of March, however, his fears were dispelled when the Jazz Band performed their first concert in front of a live audience in two years.
“Our first performance was definitely one of the most exciting times of my life,” Podolsky said. “Playing in front of the audience gave me a feeling of happiness because I knew the audience loved our music and I knew the band was having the time of their lives.”
So did Rich Stichler, assistant instructor in the Department of Music and director of the Jazz Band. He came to UTC as a music teacher in 2019 for the pandemic to shut down all musical groups.
Even when those doors reopened at the end of the fall 2021 semester, music students didn’t exactly break through those doors to become members of the Jazz Band, he said. Jazz isn’t a style that usually appeals to students because many of them aren’t familiar with it, he says, but it’s easy enough to excite them. Just play for them.
“It’s, ‘Whoa!'” Stichler said. “And now all of a sudden they’re talking about it, and they’re listening to it, and they’re like, ‘That’s cool.
“You’re kind of opening up, well, not really Pandora’s box, but just exposing them to new things.”
When the Jazz Band officially resumed operations in January, Stichler initiated a major musical change. Before the pandemic, jazz at UTC was played in small combos, maybe six or seven players. He moved on to big band jazz, which needs about 20 or more.
Big band jazz doesn’t mean playing familiar – and perhaps a bit overplayed – standards like Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train”, Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” or “One O’Clock Jump” by Count Basie. That’s a limited view, Stichler said.
“A lot of times when band managers think ‘jazz’, they think ‘Oh, I gotta play Count Basie.’ Is that it? Well, there’s more to it. Yes, the foundation is there. That’s how it started. But now the sky’s the limit.
Stichler, for example, wrote an arrangement for “All My Life,” a song by rockers Foo Fighters.
“And it sounds good, so it’s pretty neat,” he said. “If you can find good arrangements of current stuff, that’s good because I think the students like it.
During the recent concert at the Auditorium of the Center Universitaire, the group went through several styles. To balance. Latin. Funk. New Orleans spacer.
“I tried to get variety because each music chart was a different style. We played seven charts,” Stichler said.
Ultimately, his hope is to have both the big band and smaller combos, but that may take a while.
“I want to start doing these things on the road, you know, once things really get started.”
Podolsky said the new musical direction and its possibilities increased his level of excitement.
“When I heard the Jazz Band was finally returning to UTC, I knew I had to make it a priority to join the band, and I’m happy with my decision.”