The Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble Concert featured a guest star last Friday night: The Late Show trumpeter Al Chez. The Lang concert hall was packed with eager listeners ranging from friends and family to avid jazz fans ready for a night of auditory delight.
The main attraction, Chez, was brought to Swarthmore by Drew Shanefield, the director of the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble. Shanefield described the Ensemble’s two-day experience with Chez as “singularly incredible” and the concert as “an experience we will remember for some time to come.”
Shanefield knew Chez through their mutual experience in the Drum and Bugle Corps. Chez’s early career as a musician began with the Saints, his father’s local drum corps. Since then, Chez has played with artists such as Bon Jovi, Tower of Power, the Robert Cray Band, Dave Edmunds, and Kim Wilson, and has toured with artists like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and David Bowie. His noted performances include presidential inaugurations in 1989 and 1993, John Lennon’s 50th birthday celebration in Tokyo, the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games Closing Ceremonies, and the 1999 Concert of the Century at the White House.
The first half of the concert featured intimate, soulful performances, while the second showcased the musical power of the entire ensemble. There was an interestingly constant alternation between slow, crooning pieces and snappier, lively numbers.
Mitchell Slapik ’14 and Kenny Ning’14 kicked off the concert with a “Jazz Combo”: an arrangement of Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” and Guy Wood’s “My Only and Only Love.” Although this seemed a baffling choice at first, the masterful arrangement and easy familiarity of the piece made it a perfect opening. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” a beautiful jazz choir arrangement, bridged the two sections by highlighting the beauty of a stripped-down sound while preparing the audience for a larger, brassier sound.
Though the Jazz Ensemble proved their extraordinary skill with pieces like “How High the Moon” and “Ornithology,” one could sense the dramatic shift in energy when Al Chez took the stage. Very much the aged rocker in black jeans and a scruffy haircut, Al Chez brought an intense vitality to the Ensemble. As he played “Radar Love,” a song introduced as one with an “inherent blues feel” that is “tons of fun to play,” the entire Ensemble took on an auxiliary role as his trumpet rang out through the hall, unamplified. It was breathtaking to see one pair of lungs combine such volume with such intricacy.
The audience quickly caught on to this infectious energy, clapping along to the soul-based “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” and singing along to the funky show-piece “Oop Bop Sh’Bam.” Though the Ensemble clearly enjoyed playing these fast, spunky tunes, their true masterpiece was “Channel One Suite,” a complex piece of music that brought together the dedication of each member of the Jazz Ensemble and Chez’s incredible energy and skill.
One of the highlights of the concert was Chez’s heart-to-heart with the audience; his introduction to the last piece of the night, “What a Wonderful World,” was a beautiful speech about how music could be a form of power. “Music goes right through your soul, and changes your emotions,” he said. “That’s real power. [By playing music], we become better human beings.” Hearing Chez speak lent a personal touch to the concert; it gave the music a background and his brassy trumpet a personality.
The members of the Ensemble expressed appreciation at working with Chez. “He’s really successful, but a nice guy with lots of energy and great energy” guitarist Joe Boninger ’16 said. Kimaya Diggs ’15 (vocals) and Ning (piano/vocals) agreed: “He’s really fun and really good. He’s very energetic,” they said.
For those who attended, the concert was an exquisite night showcasing the dedication, talent and energy of the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble and the wonderfully skilled Al Chez. Everyone needs a little jazz in their lives; the Jazz Ensemble’s performance with Chez gave it to the audience in a large, punchy way that was ultimately unforgettable.
Photo courtesy of http://www.crossmen.org.