Jazz Ensemble delights University crowd

On Feb. 23, the University’s Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of John D’earth, presented a wonderful and engaging selection of music at their concert entitled “Play on Words.” The show, which centered around the many ways music and words could interact with each other, successfully combined performances of poetry, prose and song into various jazz compositions, including pieces by Thad Jones, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and even D’earth, the director.

The ensemble opened the concert showcasing its unique and varied sound, introducing the audience to their fun, free style of performance. This being my first U.Va. Jazz concert, I was unsure of what to expect, but by the end of the first piece, it was clear that the Jazz Ensemble was set on making every single audience member a fan of the genre by the end of the night. Beyond the superb featured soloists, the various ensemble members worked well with one another. The players were clearly having a good time on stage, and the energy among them was definitely translated to the audience during the opening number.

Later in the first set, the audience was properly introduced to the “Play on Words” theme when English Prof. Deborah McDowell took the stage. McDowell lent her smooth, rich voice to the performance with several readings of poems and prose by artists such as Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. This new element brought forth a different perspective on jazz music, as the audience was able to associate the story of the original artists with the piece the ensemble was performing. At this point, guest clarinetist Joel Rubin took the stage, who proved to be an outstanding edition to the Ensemble.

Later in the concert, yet another aspect of the show was revealed: singing. Fourth-year College student Virginia Burke offered her beautiful, melodious voice to the Jazz Ensemble’s musical offerings, which provided audience members with a unique interpretation of music that I had never experienced before.

The last guest artist in the Jazz Ensemble concert was Education Prof. Margo Figgins, who offered a reading of her poem “Road to an Epic Life,” in which she recounts her journey with her small son from Argentina to America. This was a truly remarkable story, and set with the Jazz Ensemble’s fantastic work, became my favorite piece of the evening.

Throughout the show, I was especially struck by the incredible way in which the audience was able to see and feel how words could interact with music. The Jazz Ensemble is simply superb; the group’s stellar sound and innovative techniques made the music seem both accessible and entertaining.

I encourage you to come out and see them on March 22 at C’ville Coffee, where they’ll be playing along side Virginia Tech’s Jazz Ensemble. If it’s anything like what I saw last week, it promises to be quite a treat.

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