Williams Jazz Ensemble comes on strong with first show in season

Last Friday, Chapin Hall was filled almost to capacity with over 400 students, parents, faculty and community members listening to the head-bopping tunes of the Music 309 Ensemble, the Jazz Sextet and the Jazz Ensemble. All three groups successfully entertained the audience, leading to a standing ovation at the end of the last performance by the Jazz Ensemble and bringing a strong taste of jazz to the Purple Valley.

The Music 309 Ensemble, consisting of Brian Levine ’16 (drums), Danny Schwartz ’13 (guitar and piano), Chris Janson ’16 (bass), Chris Picardo ’13 (saxophone), Joe Iafrate ’14 (clarinet and bass clarinet) and Jonathan Dely ’15 (trumpet), performed two songs for the audience: The first, “93 till Infinity,” originally written by Souls of Mischief, was rewritten by Schwartz to fit the smaller ensemble. He was also able to “preserve the original feeling of the tune while scoring it as a more traditional jazz piece,” according to Clary Artist in Residence and Director of Jazz Activities Andrew Jaffe. Jaffe praised both “93 till Infinity” and the second piece, “Lover Man,” originally written by Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez and James Sherman. The piece was rewritten by Iafrate, who Jaffe said “turned it from a ballad into a jazz waltz, which I think was very effective.” Both songs were well executed and garnered strong approval from the audience.

The Jazz Sextet followed and delivered equally rousing performances, including “Stompin’ At The Savoy” by Edgar Sampson, arranged by Marty Jaffe. It was followed by “Big Mac (Bro. Tyner)” by Avery Sharpe. The members of the Sextet, Schwartz (guitar), Dely (trumpet), Andrew Quinn ’13 (tenor saxophone), Taylor Halperin ’14 (piano), Gregory Ferland ’16 (bass) and Levine (drums) filled Chapin despite their small sized group. With standout performances by Dely, Quinn and Ferland, the Sextet shifted from musician to musician, creating a joyful atmosphere of musical banter.

The last group to perform on the night was the Jazz Ensemble. Consisting of 24 members, the ensemble brought a professional and lively jive to Chapin: The members of the audience were found tapping their feet and bobbing their heads throughout the performances. The set included a wide variety of melodies, including both “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Happy Go Lucky Local” by Duke Ellington – the latter transcribed by Brian Coughlin – “Until I Met You” by Freddie Green, “Swingin’ at The Haven” by Ellis Marsalis and arranged by Jaffe, “Samba de Saudade” composed and arranged by Jaffe, “Don’t Git Sassy” by Thad Jones and “Deserted Ballroom” by Bill Finegan. The pieces offered a wide range of melodies, especially in song differences, much like the contrast between  the lively and upbeat “Happy Go Lucky Local” to the melancholy and haunting “Deserted Ballroom.” The ensemble did justice to the distinctive emotional resonance within the pieces and created strong variations, giving the concert depth.

The many solos performed  that night fittingly flaunted the range of talent in the ensemble; it is difficult to single out any particular musician, as each member performed at a high level. According to Jaffe, “All the soloists are capable, and there’s a good sense of teamwork that makes the ensemble playing work at a very high level, too.” The ensemble has an extremely bright future, as several of the solos were taken up by the youngest members of the group in their debut performances. Jaffe was particularly excited about this, describing the ensemble as “the best it’s ever been in my 24 years here.” The Jazz Ensemble has attracted musicians from “some of the best high school programs in the country,” according to Jaffe, and it will continue to do so hopefully for many more years. With the talent of both underclassmen and upperclassmen, Jaffe said he “couldn’t be more pleased.”

The Jazz Ensemble closed with an encore performance of “Love Is Here to Stay” by George Gershwin and translated by Jaffe. The vocal addition of Chie Togami ’13 (who also appeared in “Until I Met You”) was a fantastic finishing touch to an enjoyable night. The 309 Ensemble will perform  Dec. 5 in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall to end the year, while the Jazz Ensemble will not perform again until April 26. I would highly suggest changing things up from the dance parties of Greylock and attending a jazz concert in the upcoming months.