Honoring the Legends

Photo by Russell Hartman.

On Tuesday night in Studley Theater, the SUNY New Paltz Jazz Faculty performed their semesterly faculty showcase concert. Among the performers were SUNY New Paltz Professors Rebecca Coupe-Franks (trumpet), Mark Dziuba (guitar), Vinnie Martucci (piano), John Menegon (bass), Teri Roiger (vocals), David Savitsky (alto saxophone) and Jeff Siegel (drums). The group performed eight jazz pieces during the evening and each piece featured either five, six or all the members of the group.

To begin the concert, Roiger welcomed the crowd, thanked them for coming out to the show and mentioned that this particular concert had a theme. The theme of the concert was to commemorate the lives of four of jazz’s greatest composers who had passed away in the past few years. Those composers included trumpeteer Clark Terry, pianist Horace Silver, saxophonist Ornette Coleman and bassist Charlie Haden. Throughout the course of the night, the group played various pieces of each composer to give the audience a good understanding of the kind of music they created.

The first piece, announced by Roiger, was a piece by Ornette Coleman entitled Blues Connotation. Every member of the group played this piece and all of the members of the group soloed on it as well. Savitsky started the solos off with a tasty saxophone solo and each member of the group continued to show off their chops in the opener. Blues Connotation was a fantastic opener due to the fact that it was upbeat and showcased every member of the group. After hearing the first piece it was clear that every member of the audience was in for a treat.

Following the Ornette Coleman piece, Siegel introduced the next piece, Lonely Woman, composed by Horace Silver. The group played it as a bossa nova rather than the typical ballad style it is  usually performed in and it sounded great. For this piece the group consisted of all the members except for Roiger. Professors Martucci and Savitsky performed some tasteful solos during this piece and it was a nice change of pace from the upbeat opening tune.

The next piece, which was arranged by professor Coupe-Franks, was a piece entitled Prohito; which was composed by Clark Terry. This piece was full of great trumpet passages and showcased the skill Coupe-Franks possesses on the trumpet. Prior to this concert, I hadn’t listened to Clark Terry much before but because of hearing pieces like Prohito he is someone I definitely want to listen to more. Both Savitsky and Coupe-Franks took solos on this piece and then “traded” with Siegel and all three had some great interactions over the chord changes of the piece.

The fourth piece of the night turned out to be the most emotional. Professor Menegon came to the mic and spoke about Charlie Haden and how he would never forget meeting him many years ago. The fourth piece the group played, Closeness, was written by Menegon for Charlie Haden and it was one of the most beautiful pieces of the night. It was a ballad type piece that heavily featured Menegon and professor Coupe-Franks on trumpet. Professor Dziuba had a very nice solo during this piece as well. Closeness was the one true original of the night, and it was really nice to hear an original composition by one of the professors that I’ve had. There was basically no intermission between the fourth and fifth pieces and as soon as Closeness ended, the fifth piece began.

Professor Roiger came out to the stage prior to the fifth piece and quickly introduced the piece (First Song by Charlie Haden with lyrics by Abbey Lincoln). The group took on a different look with this piece as professor Coupe-Franks was not on stage during this performance. Roiger’s vocals in this piece were fantastic and this piece just added to the great ballads that were performed during the concert. You could really tell that Roiger, being an avid fan of Abbey Lincoln herself, really enjoyed performing this piece. Professor Martucci performed a lush solo during this piece.

After First Song, Roiger announced to the crowd that another jazz legend had passed on; legendary saxophonist Phil Woods had died earlier in the day. A sad reaction fell over the crowd when this news was announced and professor Savitsky started an ovation in honor of Woods to which the crowd responded, applauding the legend’s career. As a saxophonist myself, the news hit me quite hard as Woods was one of the best ever with the instrument and he was an icon on the scene.

After the sad bit of news the concert went on. Next up was The Jody Grind by Horace Silver. This tune along with the following one, Mumbles by Clark Terry, were my two favorite pieces of the night. They were both absolutely swinging. Each featured some amazing solos including professor Savitsky’s solo on The Jody Grind which was absolutely ripping. Professor Menegon had a rip-roaring skat solo on Mumbles and professor Martucci had quite the melodica solo on Mumbles. Both tunes were upbeat, fast paced and an absolute joy to listen to. To close the concert, the group played through a great arrangement of Sister Sadie by Horace Silver. The concert ended with the whole group taking a bow to thunderous applause.