Jazz fundraiser benefits band, audience

Jenna Gerling

Kent State Jazz Ensemble students sat on a small stage, each playing an instrument: trumpets, trombones, saxophones, drums, piano, guitar and double bass.

“I love jazz!” one woman said over the music to the person next to her. She smoothed her graying hair and added, “If my husband was here we’d be dancing right now.”

Another woman turned and beamed at a man in a wheelchair next to her. She clapped to the song “Woodchopper’s Ball,” by Woody Herman.

Students in the Kent State Jazz Ensemble are raising money to attend the largest annual jazz conference in New York by performing at retirement homes in the area. Their most recent performance was at Laurel Lake Retirement Community in Hudson last week.

“It’s great to see the look on their faces when they hear a song that they recognize, or when they get up and start dancing, because they’re having a good time and it’s taking them back to their childhood,” said Alexa McCleaster, a senior music education major who plays bass clarinet and baritone saxophone in Jazz Ensemble I.

Arthur Weinstein, a resident of Hudson for 46 years, was visiting his sick neighbor at Laurel Lake the night the band played. He got up and danced to eight of the 16 songs the band played, including “It Had to be You,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood,” and “The Very Thought of You.”

McCleaster said she would look ahead in the music and memorize what she had to play just so she could watch Weinstein dance.

“It was just so great to be playing music that he was really enjoying, and that he was just having a great time,” she said.

She said the retirement gigs are good for the bands because they get the chance to practice playing in front of people. She said Laurel Lake was the largest retirement community the band has played in front of — more than 130 residents came. A television camera inside the room broadcast the concert to more than 200 residents who couldn’t make it.

Junior accounting major Jimmy Redmond, who plays bass trombone in Jazz Ensemble I, said there are other ways to benefit from their concerts.

“It’s cool because it works well for both parties,” Redmond said. “For us, we get a few bucks to go toward our trip, and for them, we’re able to give them some entertainment. It makes you feel good.”

For their trip, the jazz ensembles have acquired $3,000 donated by professional saxophonist Jamey Aebersold, who produces and sells the educational materials the jazz ensembles use to improve their improvisational skills.

More than 50 students have been fundraising for the International Association for Jazz Educators since Oct. 17 by selling cheese, chocolate and sausage through Century Resources, a school fundraising program, to reach their goal of $6,000.

Jazz ensembles will continue to raise money for their trip by playing at retirement communities; their next show is tomorrow at Stow-Glen Retirement Village.

Retirement shows usually pay $50 to $300; Laurel Lake’s program and activity manager Pita Brooks gave $120 to the three-time-returning band for its concert.

“They are a very young and energizing group,” Brooks said. “They love the jazz band because the kids are full of youth and vigor, as the residents would put it.”

“I’ve seen the band twice,” said Rhea Brown, a resident of Laurel Lake for 15 years. “I love the music, but I hope they play some of Glenn Miller’s songs, like ‘In the Mood,’ or ‘I’m Getting Sentimental Over You’- that’s Glenn Miller’s theme song.”

Baker paused between songs and addressed the crowd, saying how he was envious that some of them were able to see Tommy Dorsey and other great jazz musicians live.

“We’re glad we’re playing for a crowd who actually knows what we’re playing,” Baker said. “There are a couple of reasons why we play this music: We want to get out in the community, and it’s a good thing for the young kids to do for the older citizens — it’s a learning experience every time.”

Contact performing arts reporter Jenna Gerling at [email protected].