Student Jazz Ensemble Rocks Studley

Two of SUNY New Paltz’s student chamber jazz ensemble groups, “The Magnificent Seven” and “Paper Frogs” demonstrated their love for this genre on Nov. 19 at Studley Theatre. 

The two groups were organized by adjunct professor Jeff Siegel. He has been teaching at SUNY New Paltz for the past 26 years. Siegel is an experienced director, conducting ensembles not only at New Paltz, but also at the New School in New York City and Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. Siegel is also a professional drummer, beginning his career in 1976.

Both of these groups were organized before the Fall 2018 semester even started. According to fourth-year music major Michael Iaciofano, each ensembles decides on what material to perform and practices it leading up to their performance. Iaciofano played both the guitar and drums for “Paper Frogs.” 

“Jeff gave us some pieces,” said second-year music major Terri Vargas. “It wasn’t set in stone.”  

Vargas was one of the two guitarists for “The Magnificent Seven.” “We just chose the ones we liked, and people brought in their favorites.”

“The Magnificent Seven” was the first group to play. The ensemble consisted of flutist and alto saxophonist Biancarose Piscioneri, guitarist Christine Saturno, pianist Robert Vetri, bassist Kevin Oriol, Vargas and drummer Ronald Socozza. Joining them on trumpet was guest musician Gary Patrik. He has played for New Paltz groups in the past and is a retired mathematician and actuary. 

They played five songs, the first being Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” an upbeat, piano driven track that featured great solos from all members. Next was their version of “My Favorite Things,” composed by Richard Rogers and famously covered by John Coltrane. “My Favorite Things” is a beautiful piece in and of itself, but Piscioneri’s alto saxophone solo and Oriol’s bass solo really made the piece their own. 

They followed that with two Sonny Rollins songs, “Doxy” and “St. Thomas,” before ending on the funky jazz-rock track, “The Chicken,” by Alfred James Ellis. The piano, drums and bass provided a lot of momentum for this piece.

“Paper Frogs” played next and this group consisted entirely of students. It was composed of vocalist Elizabeth Heh, trombonist Ryan Perrone, tenor saxophonist Ryan Richard, Iaciofano, guitarist Anthony Lupardo, pianist Andrew Cymbal, bassist Douglas Faulkner and drummer Matthew Davis. Davis and Iaciofano would trade off on drum duties between songs.

“Paper Frogs” had several stand out moments during their set. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” by Duke Ellington and Bob Russell was a bright, urban piece. Heh is incredibly charming and sultry on the track, while Iaciofano plays incredibly cool drum solos that hit hard. He continues this style on the track “Speak No Evil.” Perrone, Richard and Cymbal are all given room to provide outstanding solos on the track that all come one right after the other.

The penultimate track, “Stardust,” was a beautiful, somber piece, with Davis playing his kit with unique drumsticks that had feather-duster like tips. Heh’s voice is distant, eerie, yet soothing at the same time. The pace of the set is changed with the final piece, “Alamode” by Curtis Fuller. It acted as a refreshing splash of cold water to the face after the sereneness of “Stardust.”

SUNY’s New Paltz’s jazz ensembles will be performing one more concert on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. in Studley Theatre. Varags plans to sign up with the Jazz Ensemble for the Spring 2019 semester, while Iaciofano is graduating at the end of the Fall 2018 semester. 

“It’s important to support the kids, just kind of seeing what the jazz music is,” Iaciofano said.