Jazz hands will be flying this weekend

Alyssa Sparacino

It’s a busy weekend for members of the Kent State’s jazz ensemble.

Tonight they play at the Kent Stage for a Rotary Club of Kent event, and tomorrow they play for the guests of the Founders Scholars Ball in the Student Center Ballroom. However, some members say the experience is worth the hectic schedule.

“We’re basically doing, within a 24-hour period, three different bodies of music,” said Chas Baker, associate professor of jazz studies.

The ensemble will play a set of concert music at the rotary event and also a set with professional jazz vocalist Helen Welch.

Welch, an England native, is a singer, song-writer and actress who has starred in the Broadway play “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” She has also recorded a compact disc with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.

At the Founders Scholars Ball, the ensemble will play continually through most of the event.

“We will literally play the crowd into the ballroom from the reception,” Baker said.

While the guests of the ball have dinner, ensemble members will play what they call a “dinner set” with softer notes and ballads.

Dance music will also be played after dinner when the guests are invited to the dance floor.

“For the ball, nearly everything we play will be standards,” Baker said. “It’s all the great music everybody knows.”

Music performance majors, music education majors and even non-music majors make up the jazz ensemble. Baker said students come to him with all different skill levels.

“I start them from the ground up,” he said. “Some kids arrive not knowing too much. Some come here with a big set of skills already. It’s kind of like a football team, and my job is to bring them all together.”

Scott Marsh, a senior music education major who has been involved with the ensemble since he was a freshman, described the experience as “practical application.”

“It’s kind of like student teaching, but as musicians you have to know what it’s like to perform as well as teach,” he said. “If I’ve never performed, how can I teach students? If I’ve never gone through hard individual practice on my instrument, how am I going to sell that to kids?”

Marsh, who plays lead trombone in the ensemble, said one of the reasons jazz music is popular at events like the ball is the mood it sets for the guests.

Baker added that there are many good pieces from the classical, standard jazz era that the ensemble will be playing. Events, such as those this weekend, are excellent experiences for the music students, he said.

“Where else could they get to play all this great music?” he said.

For more information about the events, contact the Rotary Club of Kent or the Office of University Development.

Contact performing arts reporter Alyssa Sparacino at [email protected].