A Jazzy Night: New Paltz Faculty Presents Jazz Concert in Studley

The Faculty Jazz ensemble performs some classics and original works at Studley Theater. Photo Courtesy: Alyssa Sciarrone

The Faculty Jazz Concert on Tuesday, Feb. 21 is a staple of the Concert Series hosted at Studley Theater.

Each semester, the music department holds concerts where students, faculty and guests perform a variety of different musical styles that are free to all SUNY New Paltz students. A constant among these is the Faculty Jazz performance. Professors in the department come together as an ensemble and play a mix of original compositions, jazz standards and modern takes on some of those classics. 

If you’ve taken a music course at SUNY New Paltz, some of the musicians may be familiar to you. The ensemble featured Laurel Masse, vocals, Rebecca Coupe-Franks, trumpet, Dave Savitsky, alto sax, Nick Hetko, piano, Mark Dziuba, guitar, Rich Syracuse, bass and Jeff “Siege” Siegel, drums.

They opened with a lively instrumental piece called “Sun,” composed by Coupe-Franks, from her 2022 album release “Planets.” Each musician had a featured solo crafted for the performance, allowing the audience to take in each of them as individuals within the ensemble. 

They were joined on stage by Masse for a moving rendition of “Skylar,” a 1941 composition by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Before singing, Masse said, “[Mercer] was able to set words to emotions without making them seem trite or overly dramatized.” The song is about his relationship with Judy Garland and the love he held for her.

Later in the evening, the ensemble performed “Doodlin’” by Horace Silver. In true professor fashion, Masse gave a “mini-lesson” to her applied vocal jazz students in attendance on the difference in terminology used in jazz theory versus classical music theory. “The middle section, which you will know because there will suddenly be a whole lot of words going by relatively quickly, that’s called vocalese in jazz. Lots of words set to somebody else’s improvised solo. In classical music, vocalese is wordless,” said Masse, “perhaps because the jazz vocaleses have used up all the words.” This last part evoked a chuckle from the audience.  Among the ensemble were Hetko, Syracuse and Siegel, a jazz trio that has been performing together for many years. Hetko joined the group after his mentor and friend Dr. Lee Shaw “the First Lady of Jazz” died in 2015, the original pianist of the trio. They recently released an album paying tribute to her memory, “When You Were There” in 2019.

They ended the night with a song called “My Bucket Got an Hole In It” made famous as a jazz piece by Buddy Bolden. With a much slower, bluesy feel to the song, it made for a calm resolution to the evening. 

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a jazz fan or have never given the genre a real chance, I highly recommend checking out the Faculty Jazz concerts every time they come around. They are all incredibly talented musicians with decades of experience to sharr that with the student body . Maybe you’ll even find yourself falling in love with a whole new branch of music you’ve never considered before.