ROCHESTER, NY — The spring semester may be winding down at the Eastman School of Music, but the jazz scene definitely is still going strong. Three different student jazz ensembles will present two concerts in one week, helping to bring the School’s academic year to an exciting close. Both concerts are free and open to the public.
Eastman Jazz Ensemble and New Jazz Ensemble perform the music of Jim McNeely
The award-winning Eastman Jazz Ensemble (Fred Sturm, director) and the New Jazz Ensemble (Dave Rivello, director) wrap up their seasons in a special joint concert at 8 p.m., Friday, April 26, in Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs St.). The concert will feature nine selections composed and/or arranged by the versatile pianist and composer Jim McNeely, whose work The New York Times has called “exhilarating.”
McNeely — who will conduct some works and play piano on others — has a long and distinguished career as pianist with the groups of Ted Curson, Chet Baker, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and the Phil Woods Quintet, and as a sideman on numerous recordings by these and other jazz greats. He also is well known as an original composer/arranger for several big bands. Currently, he is pianist and composer-in-residence for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the permanent chief conductor of the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra. In addition, McNeely leads his own trio, serves on the jazz faculty of New York University, and has 10 albums under his own name. His latest, Group Therapy by the Jim McNeely Tentet, was nominated for a 2002 Grammy Award for best large jazz ensemble.
The New Jazz Ensemble (NJE) will open the concert, and the Eastman Jazz Ensemble (EJE) will perform after intermission. The EJE’s performance will be a bittersweet one for Director Fred Sturm, who has led the group since 1991 and is leaving Eastman to become director of the jazz and improvisational music department at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, WI — his undergraduate alma mater where he started the school’s jazz ensemble as a 19-year-old student and eventually became its first jazz director. “This year marks the completion of my 25th year of university jazz teaching,” said Sturm. “I’ve had what I consider to be the two most wonderful jobs in my field. But bidding farewell to the 2001-2002 Eastman Jazz Ensemble — the finest collegiate group I’ve ever directed — will be tough.”
Jazz Lab Band presents local premiere of new Ellington transcription and Maria Schneider work
Just two days earlier, Wednesday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs St.), Eastman’s Jazz Lab Band, directed by graduate students Ike Sturm and Brian Shaw, will present a concert featuring the local premiere of a new transcription of Duke Ellington’s Three Cent Stomp and Eastman alumna Maria Schneider’s exhilarating Hang Gliding, along with other works by Count Basie, Bill Holman, Herbie Hancock, and Bob Brookmeyer.
Eastman is one of only nine schools/universities across the county that has been selected by the Duke Ellington Legacy Inc. (which represents the Ellington family) to premiere periodic new transcriptions that it has commissioned of some of Ellington’s early works. (Ultimately, each will be made available at no cost to other jazz bands/ensembles.) The nine schools are performing one or both of the first two new transcriptions throughout the month of April to coincide with “Jazz Appreciation Month,” according to Tom Alexios, who coordinates music outreach for the Ellington family and special projects for Down Beat magazine. Other schools involved in the project include UCLA, Columbia College of Chicago, East Carolina University, and the Philadelphia School of the Arts, among others.