• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

Jazz concert: ‘Sweating bullets but better than usual’

October 14th, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

By Max Dahl

LOGAN–Two Utah State jazz ensembles performed their Big Band Jazz Concert to a packed house Wednesday night at the USU Performance Hall. An array of styles were showcased, and many members of both groups were called upon to execute solos; all of which were performed convincingly.

“I give these guys and the evening a big thumbs up,” said Jon Gudmundson, director of jazz studies and the USU Jazz Orchestra. “It’s kind of a shakedown getting ready so quickly, but I feel it was wonderful considering we have such a short time to prepare.”

Todd Falis, director of the USU Jazz Ensemble, explained that the time frame for the first concert can make the evening tense. “The first concert is always nerve-wracking. It is only week seven. The first week was spent auditioning, so we essentially had five weeks to get completely prepared. We were sweating bullets up there, but this year was better than usual.”

Gudmundson said his opportunities and challenges were similar to football coach Gary Andersen at the beginning of a season. “Every year great musicians graduate, and new people come in. Sometimes you wish you could keep people; say to them ‘can I just flunk you, so you can stay one more semester?’ but we keep it happening with these new guys.”

Many soloists were featured, especially in the effervescent Duke Ellington piece Main Stem, where seven soloists took their brief turns at the microphone for their sputtering and dizzying solos. Toes were tapping and heads bobbing, but Falis complained to the audience that it was “too quiet, as always” in the performance hall. ‘Hooting and hollering’, as well as getting up in the aisles to dance were encouraged by both Falis and Gudmundson and facilitated by the reverberations from the musicians.

“We are having fun! And the whole idea is to get the audience to have as much fun,” Falis said. “There was lots of love in the room.”

Perhaps the most memorable image of the night was watching Falis dancing and grooving to the music he was conducting.

Heavily featured soloists for the Jazz Ensemble included Mike Benson on tenor saxophone and piano, Clovis Ward and Greg Newbold on guitar and Chris Saunders and Harmony Byam on piano. Connor Robison on tenor saxophone was featured in half of the numbers that the Jazz Orchestra played, and Liz Wolley’s vocal additions evoked strong reactions from the crowd.

Looking forward to their next performance, the Jazz Ensemble will look towards faster or Latin pieces to challenge the ability and stamina of the musicians. Falis also expressed his desire to arrange more opportunities for “soli” in which the five saxophone players are featured in a collective solo.

Jazz Ensemble will present their work in the performance hall Dec. 1.


Jazz Orchestra will begin preparation for their distinguished guest David Pietro, who will visit USU in April. Pietro is a gifted saxophonist and is currently the Music Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at New York University. Gudmundson also wants his musicians to delve deeper into their discipline with challenging pieces that challenge the group in more “subtle ways”, because the orchestra proved they can perform compelling Latin and Ellington jazz, as well as swelling big band numbers.

Tags: , ,

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.