Students filled tables, couches, the staircase and even the floor of 1515 Saturday to cheer on student musicians at WXTJ’s first-ever Jazz and R&B night. Lured by free pizza but retained by a mesmerizing show, spectators were thoroughly engaged throughout the student-radio station’s three-and-a-half hour program.
According to Jacob Hobbs, WXTJ co-director and third-year College student, the organization will hold a Jazz and R&B night at least once a semester going forward after the incredible turnout on Saturday.
“[Saturday night] showed that students want more of a variety when it comes to music events on Grounds,” said Hobbs.
Audience members were welcomed to the show by Swamp Street, a funk and R&B band composed of fourth-year College student Jeremy Nachison on the drums, third-year College student Karolyn Yoon on guitar and vocals, third-year College student Cameron Meredith on bass and Kimball Roberts on the keys. The band kicked off the evening with funky, uptempo tunes, captivating excited listeners with standout guitar playing and an unapologetic plethora of rhythms, allowing the vocals to take a backseat.
The unconventional, genre-bending performance gradually increased in tempo as it progressed, culminating in the performance of original music where shades of rock emerged. A dramatic drum solo by Nachison and isolated guitar work by Yoon emerged as crowd-favorites while dozens of audience members couldn’t help but nod to the beat.
After Swamp Street’s hour-long set, the Mike Rosensky Jazz Ensemble took the stage, replacing the jovial, impulsive energy of their predecessors with an intense focus, marked by the phantom counting and visible edge of a group aiming for perfection. Their confidence was soon elevated by the guest appearance of Music prof. John D’earth, the University’s Director of Jazz Performance. After working the crowd with the demeanor of a professional, D’earth joined the student ensemble for some impromptu trumpet solos, brilliantly reaching both highs and lows of the musical scale and sparking resounding applause.
Each instrumentalist had their time in the spotlight, with lengthy solos dominating the performance — yet, the group was at their strongest when playing in unison. Each musician complimented one another, and their refined sound blended nicely. Music Prof. and viola player Bonnie Gordon joined the group for a rendition of a Duke Ellington piece, but it was the brass that highlighted the ensemble’s performance.
Student band Loose Champagne was the third — and perhaps most engaging — group to perform, maintaining a firm grip on the audience throughout their set. Led by talented singer and first-year College student Calista Nelson, the group quickly distinguished themselves with a vocally-driven set. Their strong, authoritative sound battled through technical difficulties with some help from an animated audience that sang along to the lyrics.
The band breezed through their set with a pace that forbade the crowd from disengaging, culminating in D’earth’s triumphant return to the stage and saving their most lively song for last, causing many audience members to leave their seats and dance. The band even won over supporters on the sidewalk as the tunes snuck outside the building, stopping passerbyers in their tracks to watch through the windows — some even sporting paraphernalia of the day’s football opponent, the Duke Blue Devils.
The event concluded with a perhaps inevitable classic jazz performance from Pete Spaar’s Jazzcats, a student ensemble instructed by Senior Lecturer Pete Spaar. True to their name, the bebops were abundant from the group, who relied on an up-tempo high hat, strong bass and keyboard playing. The ‘Cats were also the only group to include the low throttling of a tenor saxophone. With a loose structure defined by improvisation, listeners were treated to a traditionally jazzy set.
By the time the ensemble had finished, performers from throughout the night joined the stage — from previous groups and the crowd alike — to fill out the sound in a beautiful medley.
“Me and the WXTJ team were over the moon with how the night went,” Hobbs said. “We are looking forward to putting on even more new and exciting types of musical events, particularly those that aren’t as represented in the U.Va. music scene right now.”
While the student performance calendar is wrapping up for the semester, students can look out for similar events in the spring.