On Saturday, February 24th, at 8:00 PM in Old Cabell Auditorium, the University Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of
John D'earth, will perform an evening of big band compositions designed to feature the ensemble's many excellent soloists,
and highlight the element of improvisation in big band jazz. Jazz is almost universally created from one, basic focal
point: the "tune." Call it what you will: the song, the ditty, the head, the riff, the form, the composition (tunes have
to be composed; that's where Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Charlie Parker come in), the musicians play it, make it
their own, arrange it, re-invent it, improvise on it and around it, always following the structure of the original tune.
Jazz musicians have a phrase that goes back a very long way: "devotion to the melody." And, just as far back, they've
championed the idea of constantly altering and re-inventing their music and their material. A song like Body and
Soul or a head like Charlie Parker's Confirmation have been performed and recorded thousands of times in
countless versions and variations from the most traditional to the most avante-garde, from versions for solo instrument
to complex arrangements a la Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, or Stan Kenton. But everything rests on the original tune. The
tension between fidelity to the original structure and the freedom and creativity of the moment, gives jazz music its
distinctive character of excitement, surprise, and satisfaction.
It is the soloists who most immediately use the tune as a vehicle for expression and the UVA Jazz Ensemble has seen a growing
number of accomplished improvisors enter the band. "Trumpeter Dean de la Pena has become a kind of MVP in the band, both as
a soloist and as an ensemble player," says conductor John D'earth. "Dean is our ad hoc assistant director. He has always
been a committed musician and he is reaching a point of maturity and artistry in his playing that is wonderful to hear."
D'earth is also pleased to report that everyone in the sax section is a capable soloist. "Our tenors are particularly strong.
Fourth year Ben Jessup and first year John Petrucelli are both capable of sparking the band with contrasting sounds and styles.
It's almost a tradition in big bands to have two powerful tenor sax soloists and we've got 'em!" Rounding out the sax section
are baritone saxophonist Andrew Busick, who will be featured on D'earth's composition, Transfiguration of a Frog, alto
sax soloist Greg Weaver, whose composition, Hidden Cove will be performed, and lead alto man Anthony Robertson. Other
featured soloists will be pianist Chris Plietz, bassists Ryan Gilchrist and Dhara Goradia, drummers Jeff Kidd and Mark Shminke,
trumpeter Brandon Walsh, ("No one started taking solos as quickly as Brandon did when he began jazz studies here," says
D'earth) and guitarist Nick Cordle. "Nick is one of my favorite voices to pass through this band," says D'earth. "He's a
sensitive, creative colorist, a talented jazz aspirant, and a shredding heavy-metal guitarist. He's also an individual who
knows as much about music history and modern music as he does about Mega-Death.
The program will feature selections designed to show different uses of the "tune" as a vehicle for jazz, from the sparsely
arranged Charles Mingus classic, Nostalgia in Times Square, to the ornately orchestrated Piccadilly Lilly,
arranged by Gregory Yasinitzy, which elevates this jaunty, swinging tune by Dave Leibman into a small symphony for driving
big band, complete with fugue! Also featured will be an ambitious chart by Lennie Niehaus on Charlie Parker's intricate head,
Moose the Mooche, which features an orchestration, for the sax section, of Charlie Parker's recorded solo on that tune.
Representing the blues, the quintessential jazz form which has generated so many hundreds of tunes, is Don Menza's Groove
Blues, a classic of big band energy and swing that features the saxophone section in a rousing soli section. The band
will also play Sammy Nestico's The Queen Bee, written for the Count Basie Band and emblematic of the perfectly wrought
arranging gems that are the hallmark of the Nestico style, which famously sets a standard for simplicity and swing. Saxophonist
Greg Weaver and director John D'earth will both contribute original music, carrying on the UVA Jazz Ensemble tradition of
performing music composed from within the band. "I'm very excited about Greg's writing and his general level of creativity,"
says D'earth. "I'm expecting to play a lot of his music over the next few years."
Saturday's concert will feature a variety of styles from the tight, ensemble sound of the traditional big band, through the
fiery sensibility of Charles Mingus, the complexity and precision of Charlie Parker, and the excitement of new compositions
heard for the first time. Tickets are $10.00 for the general public, $5.00 for students, and 5 Art$ for UVA Students.