On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the University of Maine had its Jazz Night in Minsky Hall. The free show featured five different sections of student music, including the UMaine Jazz Band, as well as four smaller groups.
The UMaine Jazz Band is currently composed of 16 students and their director, Dr. Barrett. Many of the students took solos throughout the four-song set. In just the first song, “Duke it Out,” there were six soloists: Maxim LaPlante on alto saxophone, Amorie Lewis on tenor sax, Collin Bierne on trombone, Heath Kennedy on tuba and James Fletcher on bass.
Their final song, “Caravan,” was their most recognizable, according to Barrett. As the name might suggest, it has a more foreign feel than the others. In terms of sound, it resembled something one might hear in “Aladdin” but with a swing twist.
Some of the Jazz Band students would return to the small ensembles.
The first of the small groups, known in the program as the “Tuesday 3:30 PM Combo,” featured just four students and their coach, who didn’t play with them. Of their three songs, their second piece stuck out the most. “House of Jade” by Wayne Shorter was smoother and slower than others had heard earlier. It was also the first appearance of a soon-to-be infamous upright bass.
The second small group, the “Monday 5 PM Combo,” brought with them more of a casual, funk sound rather than the jazz band and the classic jazz of their predecessors. They were the only group with multiple guitarists, with two of their six-person group playing guitar. While their rendition of “Moon River” was beautiful, with tenor saxist Jaylee Rice also performing vocals, it was the final song of their set, “Cold Duck Time,” that stood out the most. The faster-paced song showed the group’s full capacity.
The third group, the “Friday 4 PM Combo,” made sure to let everyone know they also play together outside of school events under the name “Free Parking.” They can be found on Instagram under the handle “Free_Parking_Band.” This group finds its niche in more soul-esque jazz. Their final song, “Sunny Side of the Street,” saw bassist Isaac Atkinson singing while he played. The only male singer of the night, Atkinson’s voice provided a deepness not present in the other groups.
The final band of the night, “Monday 5 PM Combo,” managed to pull off the sound and energy of big band music with just their six-person group. This group was the only one to have their coach consistently play alongside them, as well as the only one to have a dedicated vocalist. In the other groups, one member may also provide vocals when necessary. Here, however, Victoria Williams sought to put on a show with each of the group’s four songs.
“I thought that the Jazz ensemble sounded great. We had an ambitious set of charts to play, but everyone played well when it came time for it. I think that every solo was thought out and well-executed. The combos also all sounded awesome.” said fourth-year communications student Westley Bringer.
“St. James Infirmary Blues” was the first and set the bar high, but it was their second song, “Nature Boy,” that truly stood out. Starting with a piano solo from Jacob Callas, the song has a haunting melody under Williams’ singing.
There was a level of teamwork required between musicians, as well as a sense of camaraderie. This became apparent when, during their third song and the second-to-last song of the night, the upright bass broke.
A loud crack interrupted the song, although the combo tried their best to keep playing. It soon became apparent that they couldn’t, as the bridge of the bass had come off, rendering it unplayable.
While coach James Winters announced they might have to end early, the fellow bassists in the crowd, those who had played in earlier sections, began gathering on stage to fix the instrument.
If you have ever wondered how many bassists it takes to fix a bridge, the answer is four. They huddled around the instrument, conspiring on how to fix it, while Williams jokingly engaged the audience. They did manage to fix the bass, and the group played their fourth and final song, Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Students interested in joining UMaine’s jazz scene should look into MUO studies or contact Dan Barrett. Both the Jazz band as well as the combo groups are non-audition, although the latter has limited availability.