Wayne Fisher Jazz players swing through styles in finale concert

The conductor talks to the audience after the first song. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Olivia Turner | Staff Writer

What would have been a regular Tuesday night was made grand and dynamic by the performance of Baylor’s Wayne Fisher Jazz Program during their finale concert of the season at Jones Concert Hall. Commenced with the drums, the heartbeat of the band, and concluded with one triumphant, brassy blast from the ensemble, the concert jazz performance was an eclectic earful throughout.

When director Alex Parker assembled the show, he didn’t go by any particular theme, which allowed him to include a wide variety of pieces spanning over decades, he said. The styles ranged from Latin jazz, to straight ahead swing, to New Orleans street beat.

“One of my jobs is to make sure [the band is] able to perform all different styles of music,” Parker said.

Throughout songs, the musicians embodied swing in a way that was almost visual — saxophones manipulating themselves to climb up the ladder of the scale and slide back down as if riding a chute to the tune of Benny Carter’s “Doozy.” Meanwhile, trumpets and trombones communicated with each other in explosive bursts, as if in the midst of a melodic argument.

Trombone player performing his solo. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer.
A trombone player performs his solo. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

These songs allowed students to showcase their practice and improvisational skills through solos, each one beginning with the musicians taking the mic and ending with rowdy applause. In between, Parker credited the soloists and introduced the next tunes with brief histories on the artists and their music.

Parker said that by incorporating iconic jazz artists like Maria Schneider, Bob Mintzer and Gordon Goodwin, he has been able to see the band grow proficiently.

“Maria Schneider’s tunes are all about color, so there’s less technique involved, and then Gordon Goodwin’s tunes are very technique-heavy,” Parker said, attesting to the diversity of the pieces. “Jazz is such a huge umbrella; there’s stuff way over here that sounds more like wind ensemble music, and there’s stuff over there that sounds more a pop-oriented jazz.”

Clarinet player performing solo. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer.
A clarinet player performs a solo. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

Fulshear senior Paige Neilsen who graced the stage as a soprano and alto saxophone player, played in the Wayne Fisher Jazz Program through all four of her years at Baylor as a student. This performance was her last as a Wayne Fisher Jazz musician.

What she has learned from her many years of jazz affirms Parker’s words that jazz can take many forms.

“Jazz is more than people think,” Neilsen said. “It’s not just swing music, it’s fun. It’s dance music, its soulful music. It can be sad. It can be anything.”

Of the artists showcased in the performance, Neilsen said “Gush” was one of her favorites to play, a piece which brought out the softer, slower and more eerie side of the genre. During, Neilsen’s fingers danced over the keys, making her soprano sax spiral through the melodies.

Neilsen said she admires the Grammy award-winning Schneider not only as a musician, but also as a female composer. She said she has been inspired by Schneider and hopes the inspiration hasn’t left her the only one touched.

“Getting women involved in the jazz programs, not just here at Baylor, but all over, is a really cool thing to do and you never know what kind of next big female musician is out there,” Neilsen said. “She just needs a little encouraging right now.”

Graduating senior performing his trumpet solo. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer.
A graduating senior performs his trumpet solo. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer