By James Herd & Connor Yearsley
The Jazz Age is still alive and swinging thanks to the Baylor Jazz Ensemble.
Directed by Alex Parker, a senior lecturer in jazz studies, the band’s season begins Saturday with “A Moonlight Serenade,” an all Swing Era concert that features a “re-creation of what folks in the 1940s heard on radios, in nightclubs, on 78-rpm records and from the hotel ballrooms of their day,” according to a brochure published by the Baylor School of Music.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building, the concert is usually one of the most highly anticipated of the year.
“I have people ask me about it all summer long usually. We have a pretty loyal following now,” said Parker, director of jazz studies at Baylor. “We do all music from the late ’30s and ’40s, the Swing Era. Most of our other concerts are pretty eclectic.”
Some of the standards on the program include “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Moonlight Serenade” and “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
Parker said it’s hard for him to pick his favorite chord chart.
“I like them all,” Parker said. “I know that’s kind of a cheap answer. These are all standards. If I had to pick one it would be ‘Georgia Brown,’ but you can’t go wrong with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing.’ They’re all good.”
The concert is usually quite popular among older people. Anyone 65 or older gets in free. Parker said that retirement homes in the area even send buses.
“This is probably our most well-attended concert every year or close to it,” Parker said. “There are a lot of people who just really love this music.”
Parker said he loves seeing the audience’s reaction, people dancing in the aisles and the smiles on their faces when they recognize a song. He said this music was meant to be danced to.
Manny Muñoz, senior trumpet player in the band, said the little rehearsal time allotted for this concert makes it tough.
“It’s a challenge,” Muñoz said. “It gets us into gear right at the beginning of the year.”
Muñoz said it lets the band members know what Parker’s expectations are for the rest of the year and helps to identify any areas for improvement.
Parker said having it so early in the year gives them enough time to have two more concerts this semester.
It also allows him to prepare the band for high-pressure situations when you don’t get a lot of time, and sometimes no time, to prepare.
“The pedagogue in me likes the fact that it’s a real-life situation,” Parker said.
One other thing that sets this concert apart from other concerts throughout the year is that this one shines the spotlight on some of the Baylor School of Music faculty members.
“We have an amazing faculty and this is a great opportunity to showcase their talents,” Parker said.
While Muñoz agreed, he said he didn’t think there was a particular piece the band was struggling with more than the rest.
“We want to make sure the ones that feature the faculty sound the best,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz said he is probably looking forward to “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” the most.
“It features the tuba professor, which is something you don’t hear done well often,” Muñoz said.
The faculty and staff behind the ensemble strive to provide young performers of jazz music with the skills to make a long-lasting career in jazz performance, but you don’t have to be a music major to be considered for entry in the program.
“Most of the people that perform with us, they don’t have to be music majors, but everybody has some sort of music background,” Parker said. “Playing in ensembles in school, in high school or college … you have to be able to read music; you have to be able to learn how to play in an ensemble.”
“A Moonlight Serenade,” the Sixth Annual Swing Concert will be exhibited this Saturday at Jones Concert Hall.
“Come. The tickets are cheap. It’ll be a good time,” Muñoz said, as advice to those considering attending.
Parker said the concert would also make a great date night on a weekend when there’s no football game.
Tickets are $5, or free for those over 65. For tickets, call 254-710-3571 or visit the School of Music’s website at www.baylor.edu/music. They may also be purchased at the door depending on availability. All proceeds go to the School of Music.