Last Thursday, the jazz programs of Columbia and Princeton came together in a night of great music, celebration, and camaraderie. We sent our resident jazz junkie Madysen Luebke to cover the event; here’s her report.
The CU Jazz program is an unexplored gem of the Columbia arts scene that came out of hiding last Sunday night at the 2nd annual Jazz Summit between Princeton and Columbia. Rivals in every other scenario, it was a surprise to see the two schools working together for once. “I don’t believe that jazz is a competitive sport,” stated Chris Washburne, director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program here at Columbia. That was certainly the motto for the night. The pieces and ensembles dealt with a variety of styles under the umbrella of Jazz, making it impossible to see the two schools in rivalry with each other. The majority of the program was by three different Columbia groups (two CU jazz ensembles and one big band) with one Princeton group holding their own (Free to Be Ensemble).
The first ensemble played a piece composed by pianist Sturdy Adams. Starting with a haunting horn section, the song took off quickly into the soaring melodies that characterized the piece. The piece was a challenge to traditional audiences, as it often overwhelmed us with sound that seemed to almost run away from the musicians themselves. The most unexpected element of this piece was the rapid dynamic changes, with crescendos in volume and intensity followed by sudden drops down to very quiet only to begin building again.
The next group was the Big Band. This group had a very large horn section and played the standard big band music. The energy of a good big band can change a Sunday night from late night procrastination to productive with just a wave of the conductor’s hand. While all of the big band tunes were good (although some much more cliché than others) the tune “Ultimate Rejection” by Joe Farrell stood out. The piece itself has a lot of character, but the CU Big Band took the story of the ultimate rejection and created an epic drama out of it. It is rare to hear a piece of jazz that couldn’t double as background noise, but this was one of those pieces. Solos from Benjamin Rosenblum on piano and Graham Jacobson on alto sax were integral to the splendor of this piece. Rosenblum’s solo was restrained and controlled compared to the numerous “loud and proud” trumpet solos, but it added depth to the tune. Jacobson, on the other hand, felt no need to control his soulful sax playing (surprising for a ginger). Other standout players in the Big Band were the three trumpets, Corey Dansereau, Paul Lewis, and Nick Singer, featured in the final tune “Three More Foxes” by Willie Maiden. Their solos over silence were rhythmically interesting, and none of the trumpets felt the need to show off how loud their instrument can go—which is always a plus.
The Princeton group played three original songs that were not classical jazz by any means. The Princeton singer blended perfectly with the ensemble, and the pieces were interesting and refreshing after six Big Band pieces.
The final Columbia ensemble was made up of the strongest jazz players of the evening. Every solo was perfect for the build of the piece and showed the perfect amount of taste and virtuosity. Highlights were Zach Ostroff on the bass and Jake Chapman on the vibraphone—both instruments that don’t seem to get a solo often enough. Members of the ensemble composed the two beautiful pieces played by this final ensemble. Playing their own compositions seems to be a regular treat when it comes to CU jazz.
Ensembles with a combination of Princeton and Columbia students played the last two tunes together. The members of these groups had never played together before, but you couldn’t tell it. The two schools came together and created such a dynamic and diverse evening of jazz that it didn’t matter that the rest of the evening was going to be spent in Butler. Oftentimes it is worth it to explore events on campus if it means stumbling across a concert such as this from the CU Jazz Ensembles and CU Big Band.
Generic jazz photo totally not at the event via Shutterstock