‘Big Band’ swings in Chapin for 25th anniversary concert

The Bill Lowe-Andy Jaffe Repertory Big Band provided its audience with an extraordinary jazz performance on Saturday night, which was co-sponsored by the music department and the Africana studies program.
The band, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, includes Ricky Alfonso, Louise Baranger, the College’s Director of the Brass Ensemble Thomas Bergeron, Jamie Finegan and David Stangarone on trumpet; Philippe Crettien, Kenneth Hollman and Paul Lieberman on tenor sax; Peter McEachern, Ben Griffin and Bill Lowe on trombone; John Clark and Angela Haynes on the French horn; Bruce Williamson on alto sax; Dick Poccia on baritone sax; Freddie Bryant on guitar; Jeff Holmes on piano; Marty Jaffe on double bass and Ben Bilello on drums. Artist in Residence Andy Jaffe conducts the group.
Many of these musicians have performed and recorded with celebrated musicians such as P. Diddy, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Jaco Pastorius. Six of the 15 pieces on the program were composed and arranged by members of the band. Ten pieces were arranged by one of the two co-leaders, Andy Jaffe and Bill Lowe, visiting professor of music and Africana studies.
I got a chance to speak briefly with Andy Jaffe before the concert, during which time he talked about the band’s history and his plans for the night. Andy Jaffe and Lowe started the group in 1986, playing several songs composed and arranged by Andy Jaffe. Since then, the band has grown to be three or four seats deep for every instrument, meaning that there are several musicians who are able to play a given instrument should someone be unavailable for a given concert.
For the band’s 25th anniversary, Andy Jaffe said that he wanted to bring back some of the tunes that the band played in its inaugural year: “Star Spangled Rhythm,” “Un Poco Loco,” and “P. St.” He said that bringing these pieces back allowed the performers to celebrate the band’s origin and commemorate those musicians in the band who have passed on over the years. While not all of the original members of the band are still playing, there are several new members, including Andy Jaffe’s sixteen-year-old son, Marty.
Andy Jaffe started off the night with “Swingin’ at the Haven” by Ellis Marsalis, a fast-paced tune featuring the trombones and trumpets. Strong accents from the drummer and staccatos from the winds gave the song a catchy, driving rhythm that had many people in the audience rocking their heads to the beat.
“Star Spangled Rhythm,” one of the 25th anniversary songs, came next. The band played the “Star Spangled Banner” once through, after which they transitioned into a much faster swing rendition of the song. Several musicians soloed, trading fours and eights. The most impressive part of the song, however, came when the three trombones simultaneously soloed off of the melody. The entire band cut out, leaving the trombones to maintain the pace without the aid of the rhythm section, a very challenging task for any player. At one point, the trombones were playing so high that I could have mistaken them for trumpets. It was an extremely impressive solo that had the entire audience applauding in awe when the rest of the band rejoined.
Next came “24 For Elvin,” with great solos from Lowe, McEachern, Bryant and Clark. Bilello finished off the song with an incredible drum solo, after which the band returned seamlessly with a loud flurry of notes before executing a nearly perfect cutoff. “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are some JiveAss Slippers,” a piece composed by Charles Mingus, switched back and forth between two modes: one slower with more expressive tones and the other with a faster pace and much more energy. Holmes was featured in this piece with a fantastic piano solo in the slower mode.
At one point during the show, Lowe invited Aspen Jordan ’11 onto the stage for vocals during “Writing … Crocodiles” and “Hold Back Tomorrow.” These pieces were slower and longer than the others, but Jordan gave a great performance, matching her pitch perfectly with the big band behind her.
Chapin Hall was about half full, a testament to the high caliber of jazz that the audience expected and received. The band executed a very full, balanced sound, incredible dynamic range and a cohesiveness and energy that came out with every transition and in every solo.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *