University Jazz Ensemble performs improvisational works

By Kelsey Rogers, Asst. Living & Arts Editor 

The University Jazz Ensemble, directed by Joshua Davis, associate professor of music, performed on Nov. 15 in Stretansky Concert Hall.

The ensemble featured three different groups that meet throughout the week. The Susquehanna University Big Band meets on Mondays, with two other groups meeting on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Students featured in the Wednesday Combo were senior Alanna Dent on voice, junior Jon Deysher on alto saxophone, sophomores Katy Price, Milo Brooking and Hayden Stacki on piano, electric bass and drumset and first-years Matthew Martratt, Thomas Kissinger, Sydney Smith and Amber Britz on clarinet, trumpet, trombone and vibraphone.

The Wednesday Combo performed “Doxy” by Sonny Rollins and directed by Deysher, “Equinox” by John Coltrane and directed by Smith and “Cold Duck Time” by Eddie Harris and directed by Dent.

First-year student Naomi Cohen said she really enjoyed “Cold Duck Time.”

“It was high energy and the improvisation was incredible,” Cohen said. “We got to see multiple students improvise on instruments, from piano and bass to clarinet.”

Students that performed in the Friday combo were Dent on voice, juniors Benjamin Nause and Augustus Black on piano and drumset, sophomores Danny Porell, Melanie Sonatore, Lucy Ferruzza and Brooking on trumpet, alto saxophone, trombone and electric bass and first-years Kirby Leitz and Joseph Martin on alto saxophone and trombone.

The Friday Combo performed three pieces directed by sophomores to get the audience into the groove: “Bag’s Groove” by Mily Jackson and directed by Ferruzza, “Groove Merchant” by Thad Jones and directed by Porell and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Joe Zawinul and directed by Sonatore.

Sonatore said that it was up to the smaller groups to appoint people who would lead each tune.

“I got to lead one of the charts and I had to make some decisions on the spot regarding who was soloing, background figures and other general logistics,” Sonatore said. “It was really cool to get used to taking charge and experimenting with the infinite possible ways to go about performing one piece.”

The final group, the Susquehanna University Big Band, featured fast paced and upbeat songs that kept the audience “enraptured,” according to Cohen.

Featured students in the Susquehanna University Big Band were seniors Luke Duceman, Dylan Little and Dent on baritone saxophone, trumpet and voice, followed up by juniors Black, Nause and Deysher on drumset, piano and alto saxophone. Sophomores featured were Sonatore, Ferruzza, Price, Brooking, Stacki and Porell on tenor saxophone, trombone, piano, electric bass, drumset and trumpet. First- years featured were Martin, Martratt, Leitz, Smith and Britz on trombone, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, trombone and vibraphone.

Songs featured were “I Mean You” by Thelonious Monk, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Better Git Hit In Your Soul” by Charles Mingus and “Come On, Come Over” by Jaco Pastorius.

Sonatore said that “Better Git Hit In Your Soul” was her favorite piece to play.

“The saxophone line from the very beginning is really fun to play and catchy,” Sonatore said. “One of the improvisation sections is really interesting in that the only thing accompanying the soloist is the entire band clapping. It really allows the soloist to be super creative in their choices of notes without any chords backing them up.”

“Also, it’s a very soulful tune that sounds like church music,” Sonatore added.

Sonatore said she always found it fascinating to see the communication across the stage between players.

“Davis, being an exceptional bassist himself and full of jazz experience and knowledge, really helps us become more comfortable with the sometimes daunting idea of improvising,” Sonatore said.

“I came here thinking that there was no way I could compose melodies and licks on the spot, but he’s given us so many tools to help us create and experiment with,” Sonatore continued. “Therefore, jazz performances are always so much fun to be a part of or to experience.”

“With each soloist’s improvisation, you can hear people quoting other charts [and] responding to someone else.”

Multiple performances for the music department are scheduled to take place throughout the rest of November. Seniors Jessica Portzline and Luke Duceman and junior Cathrina Kothman will perform a student recital on Nov. 19 at 2:30 p.m., the Byrne:Kozar:Duo will perform a guest recital on Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and student chamber music ensembles will perform a recital on Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

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