Jazz band receives honors at festival

Bo Gemmell

A group of Kent State musicians loaded a bus with trombones, saxophones and trumpets for a seven-hour trip to Illinois Friday morning and came back today with eight awards.

Members of Jazz Ensemble I traveled to Elmhurst College, a private college outside Chicago, to perform at the 41st Annual Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.

The group played a 20-minute program of three pieces Friday night.

The band received eight Outstanding Recognition Awards after the festival.

Senior music major Scott Marsh, the student leader of the band, said the band and its soloists could receive more awards, but it won’t find out for about a week.

Chas Baker, director of Jazz Ensemble I and II, said the festival was judged by “some of the best players in the world.”

Jazz greats Jiggs Whigham, Dennis Mackrel and Gary Smulyan judged the schools and performed after the student bands on Friday.

Marsh said the three judges gave the band comments and constructive criticism on the performance.

“There were great comments, but we try not to let it get to our heads,” he said.

“This band is very mature and sounds like a professional band,” Mackrel stated in a comment sheet.

Marsh said Baker calmly watched from the side while the band performed.

“It was really fantastic to see Chas step aside and let the band just play. That says a lot,” Smuylan stated.

Baker said the students work hard and are consistent.

“I have a really good group of students this year,” Baker said. “There’s something really special about seeing your people play this stuff so well,”

A former Kent State student wrote one of the pieces, “Minor Excursion.”

“It’s a really great piece,” said Tim McDonald, junior music performance major. “This piece is rooted in the music school.”

McDonald said he practiced the pieces a couple hours daily on tenor saxophone.

“Part of what a band does is — believe it or not — purely athletic,” Baker said.

He said the students work on breathing and timing to become stronger musicians.

Trevor Wozniak, a graduate student in music performance, said he was a little nervous but thought the band was prepared.

He said the program’s pieces were “awesome” and “very diverse.”

Marsh said the pieces required improvisation at certain parts, which makes jazz music unique and allows musicians to perform creatively.

“Basically you’re composing on the spot,” he said. “The biggest challenge is pulling that off.”

Megan Arnica, junior music education major, said the band tries to play pieces the judges don’t know. She said the band was well-prepared and worked hard during rehearsals.

Arnica, who Baker described as a “seasoned veteran” of the festival, played at Elmhurst last year and hopes to return next year.

“I think we really opened the concert well,” Marsh said. “We really set the tone for the performance.”

Marsh said the band received a positive reaction from the audience of jazz enthusiasts.

“That crowd goes there and expects to hear good jazz,” he said.

The group took a train to Chicago on Saturday to visit the Jazz Record Mart, a large music store which Marsh described as “overwhelming.”

“It was a nice chance for us to bond,” he said.

Contact performing arts reporter Bo Gemmell at [email protected].