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Jazz Ensemble finds unique expression
Free concert Monday at the Performing Arts Center
W Jazz Ensemble 1
The Georgia Southern University Jazz Ensemble will play a free concert Monday at 7 p.m. inside the university's Performing Arts Center. - photo by Special to the Herald

When the Georgia Southern University Jazz Ensemble presents a free, public concert in the Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Monday, the show will have one thing in common with all other jazz performances: It will be unique.

The one-off nature of jazz performance is a cliché, but a true one, and 2016-17 brings the ensemble's 20 or so musicians unique opportunities. A recent-past performance at the Averitt Center for the Arts and the near-future show at the PAC become prelude to another show for which tickets are already selling quickly. On Jan. 25, the ensemble will perform at the PAC with trumpeter and living legend Doc Severinsen, who led "The Tonight Show" NBC Orchestra for 25 years.

Meanwhile, the student musicians are learning to improvise on music ranging from Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" to a swinging street march by a current jazz composer.

"The cool thing with jazz is that every show isn't ever going to be the same," said lead trumpet player Taylor Yarbrough, 19, a sophomore from Savannah. "I mean, for the last concert we did last semester, we did a lot of big-band stuff, and then we did a pretty weird, funky tune, but this semester it's really focusing on getting the style of swing and just getting a big-band style together."

During a recent session, Dr. Richard Mason, who conducts the ensemble and teaches it as a class, had students work through several of the numbers they will do for the show. Besides "Sentimental Mood," they played "What's New," both dating from the 1930s. But they also practiced "Lynda B," composed by David Hanson, who currently teaches at the Lamont School of Music in the University of Denver.

The New Orleans-style march is "Late in the Quarter," composed by Mike Dana.

"It's a street-beat march kind of a thing, but it swings like crazy - kind of funky, too, at the same time," Mason said.

For the upcoming concert, a student vocalist, Haley Chapman, will perform with the ensemble.

One vocal piece the band will know is "Lost in the Memory," arranged by Chris Walden, a Los Angeles-based composer for movies and television who leads his own big band. Dalton Daniel, who was a Georgia Southern Jazz Ensemble member while majoring in trombone and composition, is now a music industry professional in Los Angeles and has worked with Walden, Chapman said.

Ensemble musicians practice together in class for about an hour three times each week. But the students are also taking ensemble classes in their specific instruments, such as saxophone ensemble, observed jazz tenor sax player Brigette Jenkins, another 19-year-old sophomore from Savannah. Members of the ensemble also perform together in other bands, such as the concert band, orchestra, brass quintet and marching band.

A jazz ensemble?

What is different about jazz ensemble?

"You have a lot more freedom of expression in jazz than you do in other settings," Jenkins said.

Within the ensemble or "big band," seven members form a Jazz Combo, which will play some separate selections during the concert. By invitation, the Georgia Southern Jazz Combo opened this year's Savannah Jazz Festival.

Because jazz players get their own say in the music, communication between even a large ensemble and its audience is much more intimate that with a concert band, Yarbrough said.

In class that day, Mason had told the musicians that improvising on a tune requires memorizing the tune and staying within reach of it.

"Jazz improvisation is probably the simplest and the hardest thing you'll ever do in band," he said.

Bass trombonist Kimberlin Frank, 18, a sophomore from Camden County, said improvisation can be learned and Mason is guiding the way.

"It's a lot of hard work, and as he's told me, there are two main parts," Frank said. "You have to have something to say, and then you have to know how to say it."

Tickets are not required for Monday's performance; you just show up. For the Jan. 25 show with Severinsen, tickets are $24 for general public adults, $12 for youth under age 18 and $10 for GSU students. The PAC has already sold more than 260 tickets, said the center's director, Stacie McDaniel.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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