Salute to the Big Bands

Salute to the Big Bands

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Photo by Daniel Holmes

Terry Concert Hall was filled with students and Jacksonville locals, waiting to hear the First Coast Wind Ensemble begin their 23rd season of community music making on the evening of Oct. 11. The concert was a “Salute to the Big Bands” with the first half consisting of wind ensemble music, followed by music from the Big Band era featuring noted jazz musician and multi-instrumentalist Bill Prince.

The concert began with a powerful and majestic arrangement of the National Anthem by Robert W. Smith and conducted by the First Coast Wind Ensemble’s founder Professor Artie Clifton. After the audience was seated, the program began with the premiere of a new musical work by Jacksonville University alumni and renowned film music orchestrator, Bill Boston. The work was entitled “Horizons New,” and was especially dedicated to Artie Clifton and the First Coast Wind Ensemble. Powerful horn parts characterized the piece with light accompaniment by the woodwinds and an attractive and delicate melody in the bridge before a strong finish.

The next piece, “Maria, Mari,” was a march based on an Italian Neapolitan song by Eduardo di Cuapa that was re-scored for wind ensemble with the nostalgia of 1920’s Hollywood by Harry L. Alford. The orchestration was very flashy and portrayed a feeling of offhand frivolity, which was common in the early twentieth century that captured the audiences delight.

The first half of the concert was concluded by two Spanish style pieces, “Danzon No. 2” by Arturo Marquez and “El Camino Real” by Alfred Reed. Both featured Latin rhythms with a wide variety of percussion instruments from claves to tambourines. “Danzon” was an orchestral work that was rearranged for wind ensemble and featured solos with soprano saxophone, piccolo and trumpet with a duet between a clarinet and flute. The piece had a dance-like quality that alternated between robust and loud, to gentle and soft with a consistent pulse.

“El Camino Real” was composed after Spanish mission trips in California. The music is intended to characterize the experience of those traveling missionaries and the music of their culture. The opening was fast paced with the fiery style of Spanish Flamenco guitarists that was interrupted by a slow romantic and melodic passage that contrasted the dramatic ending and beginning of the piece, leaving the audience electrified as they left for intermission.

The second half of the concert consisted of an emcee style production with Bill Prince, Ph.D. as the host of the evening. Prince proceeded to educate the audience on the history of each piece as well as imitate the style of famous jazz improvisers of the Big Band era with his own arrangements of each tune.

The first tune was Louis Armstrong’s version of “What A Wonderful World” which was made famous after it was played in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” in 1987. Rather than Prince singing the lyrics himself, he encouraged the entire audience to join with him, creating an atmosphere of heartwarming joy as Prince played a solo in the style of Louis Armstrong on trumpet. Prince then took up the clarinet for Benny Goodman’s tune “Air Mail Special” and noted that an extra two choruses were added so the woodwinds could play an arranged jazz solo as a section after his own virtuoso clarinet solo.  The music was heavy and hard hitting until Prince contrasted it with a ballad by Johnny Mandel called “A Time for Love,” which entranced the audience as he played with a warm and soft tone on the alto saxophone.  Next, Dr. Prince took on the role of an educator as he played two medleys of different big band tunes and asked the audience to name each one. The selection ranged from “Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller to “Caravan” by Duke Ellington. The audience was brought together as both young and old were enjoying the music, as well as learning more about the history of Jazz.

Prince concluded the evening with two well known Jazz tunes, “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Sing was a Benny Goodman tune that was characterized by the hard swinging drum solo, originated by Gene Krupa, along with strong horn and trumpet parts that filled the concert hall with the pulse of a 1930’s dance club. As Prince took his clarinet solo, the audience chanted “higher!” as his lines soared into the air. Once again, Prince called on the audience to join him in singing “When the Saints go Marching In” before he took a solo on trombone, flute, alto sax, clarinet and trumpet, which he concluded with a take from the Second Line tradition of New Orleans as he and a handful of musicians marched through the audience playing improvised solos.

“It was like walking around and talking to your friends,” Terrance Peters said, alto saxophonist.

As the audience finally left the hall, it was with the feeling of warmth placed within them by the music that brought them together that evening.

“I can tell JU puts a lot of focus and passion into their program,” said Shari Collins, a Jacksonville local.

The ensemble’s leader and conductor, Clifton, said that his reason for starting the ensemble was his commitment to community music making and the valuable service he feels that it provides to the group as well as the community it plays for.

After only a few rehearsals and countless hours of preparation, a clear reward could be witnessed in the faces of those who experienced the ensemble. A visible combination of love and happiness was evident amongst the crowd as they departed the hall, as well as in the musicians that devoted their time toward making the community come together for music.

Will Malloy, senior music composition major, attended the concert and reflected on the experience and said, “It was straight killing.”