Assorted styles swing into jazz ensemble’s program

By Connor Yearsley


Today’s Baylor Jazz Ensemble concert will have a little bit of everything.

“I like to have an eclectic program,” said Alex Parker, director of jazz studies at Baylor.

Parker said he likes to keep the programs diverse because he wants audience members of different ages to hear something from their era. The wide range of pieces allows the students to learn different styles, and it means that if audience members don’t like what they’re hearing now, the next chart will be new and different.

“We’re playing everything from big-band music to Radiohead and everything in between,” Parker said.

Parker said he’s excited about the concert, as usual.

“I love to play,” he said. “The rehearsals and the process of putting it all together are also a lot of fun, but the payoff is to be able to perform for people. Always excited about a performance.”

Parker said “Kid A” by Radiohead is the most unconventional chart the ensemble will play at the concert. He said a former professor of his commissioned the big-band arrangements of a lot of Radiohead’s music and recorded them on an album. The piece is one of those arrangements.

“Radiohead music lends itself very well to the jazz language,” he said. “It’s very easy for them to put that together because it does have similarities.”

Daniel Gerona, sophomore trumpet player in the band, said he thinks “Kid A” is his favorite.

“It’s my first time playing this kind of music,” Gerona said. “The sounds we get from this are different than other stuff.”

Mark Utley, senior drummer in the band, also said he likes “Kid A.”

“Radiohead is one of my favorite bands and this is a really fantastic arrangement,” Utley said. “It sounds really fresh and there is a lot of room for creativity in it.”

Parker said it’s hard picking his favorite chart from the program.

“I like them all because I got to pick them,” Parker said. “They’re all so different. I’m a huge fan of Thad Jones, so I like ‘Don’t Git Sassy.’ I like the more modern-jazz feel that’s in ‘Kayak’ and ‘Spirit Music.’ The Radiohead tune is really cool, too. It’s hard for me to say I have a favorite though.”

Parker has some ideas about what the audience might like best.

“I think everybody will definitely like ‘Don’t Git Sassy,’” he said. “It’s just a fun, swinging chart. ‘Willowcrest’ is fast and furious.”

Utley agreed that “Don’t Git Sassy” will be popular.

“It’s a chart that feels really good when we get the groove down, and the melodies will get stuck in the audience’s head, for sure,” Utley said.

Parker said the variety of music on the program, including a very pretty ballad in “To You,” swing charts, modern straight eighth-note style, jazz waltzes and fast-to-slows, all help the band improve as musicians. He said the band has also been working a lot on improvisation.

Gerona said he’s soloing on “Spirit Music.”

“I’m just starting to learn to improv,” Gerona said.

He said he’s learning to play over the chords and trade back and forth with the band.

“I’m learning how to play off what the band plays,” Gerona said.

Utley said he has a few solos in “Willowcrest” and one in “Kid A.” Both of them are jazz waltzes (swing in 3/4 time).

“Melody is the most important thing to remember when soloing, no matter what the instrument,” Utley said. “I like to sing what I am playing in my head while I play it. If it is something that you would sing, then it is probably melodic.”

Parker acknowledged there are some difficult pieces on the program.

“I think probably the most challenging technically is ‘Don’t Git Sassy,’” he said. “The most challenging stylistically is ‘Spirit Music.’”

Utley said he thinks “Willowcrest” or “Dance for Life,” the third movement of “Spirit Music,” are the most challenging.

“‘Willowcrest’ is tough because it is long, in 3/4 [time], and has an irregular form, so everyone has to stay focused constantly,” he said. “‘Dance for Life’ is hard because the feel is very different from the stuff we are used to playing and there is a lot of layered material.”

Also on the program is “The Jazz Calling” by John Clayton.

Parker said he thinks the band is ready.

“It’s going to be a fun concert,” Parker said. “They’re playing very well. They love the music and it shows. And they’re going to really perform it. And they always have a great time performing.”

Utley said he’s really looking forward to the performance.

“I’m very excited, mostly because this is a huge departure from the kind of stuff we played on our last concert, which was all from the Swing Era,” he said.

Parker has some advice for people considering going to the concert.

“Bring lots of people,” he said. “I think they’ll find something they really enjoy at this concert.”

Gerona agreed.

“It’s going to be a good concert,” he said.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building and is free and open to the public.