Jazz band snags premiere at festival

Carissa Bowlin

Chas Baker, director of Kent State Jazz Band, conducts a rehearsal Wednesday night at Music and Speech building. The Jazz band will travel to Elmhurst College in Illinois for a Jazz Festival this weekend.

Credit: Andrew popik

An invitation to the Elmhurst Jazz Festival is an honor. The Kent State Jazz Band received that honor and then some when they were placed in today’s 7:30 p.m. slot. They are opening the stage for professional headliner Nicholas Payton’s New Quintet.

Band Director Chas Baker is taking the band with the agenda of providing an experience more than just competing for the students.

“We want to play a really good program, but we are also going to rub shoulders with some really fine performers,” Baker said. “It’s important for students to be in this kind of environment.”

Judging the competition are four adjudicators, all of whom are experienced jazz musicians.

The jazz band has proven itself successful in the past at this festival. Since their first appearance in 1968, they have returned about a dozen times and left with the “Outstanding Band” title on a few of these occasions.

“Receiving this award is a definite honor,” Baker said. “There are some powerhouse bands attending from all over the Midwest and into Canada.”

The program includes an array of jazz-based styles including anything from fusion to jazz combos. The Kent State Jazz Band has an interesting set list to compete.

“We get to take some original tunes written by local composers,” said Scott Marsh, sophomore jazz band trombonist. “This gives the audience a chance to sit back, relax and hear something new.”

The locally composed selections both are by The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra members. “The Looking Glass” is by Dave Morgan who is also a jazz studies professor at Youngtown State, and “Astieri” is by Case Western Reserve’s Paul Ferguson.

The jazz band’s piano player Pu-Cheng Wu steps up to the challenge of playing both an electric keyboard and a traditional piano at the same time in Morgan’s piece. Even with Wu’s many years of piano training, she finds playing jazz quite a challenge.

“It is such a different style than the traditional music I’m used to playing,” Wu said. “Jazz has so many different styles that have to come from your own musical ideas.”

Also included in the band’s progressive repertoire is Latin jazz ballad “Soft Touch” by Les Hooper. This features graduate trombone player Ken Gill with an improv solo and gives Gill the opportunity to win “Outstanding Soloist” at the competition.

“This is quite a semester,” Baker said. “We are fortunate to have opportunities for the students like this.”

Contact performing arts reporter Carissa Bowlin at [email protected].