The lights dim, the crowd quietens, and a subtle rhythm begins to fill the room. The music starts and sounds of the ’40s and ’50s transport the audience from the 21st century to the iconic jazz era.
UCLA Big Bands Concert is a free quarterly concert hosted by four UCLA jazz big bands. It will be held at Schoenberg Hall today from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
The four big bands are the UCLA Jazz Orchestra, the UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble, the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz Fusion Ensemble.
“The most impressive part of this concert is that most of the students are quite advanced in their craft. There’s not a real significant skill difference between us and a professional group,” said Charley Harrison, director of the UCLA Jazz Orchestra.
This will be Harrison’s sixth year working with the UCLA Jazz Orchestra, and he said he feels that this year’s group of students has created the strongest orchestra he has worked with.
“We’re the most traditional of all the groups … playing music that was a little more popular in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” Harrison said. “The other big band groups add a little twist.”
The Contemporary Ensemble will be playing music written within the last 20 years. According to Harrison, they will also play a number of student compositions.
The Jazz Fusion Ensemble incorporates jazz with other styles of music like rock, funk, soul and R&B.
“What we’ve done so far is mainly pertaining to old jazz and blues with a small spin. … Professor Kenny Burrell, our director, is very good at making new spins on old arrangements, making the old sound very new,” said Noah Rosen, a second-year undeclared humanities student.
Rosen plays the tenor saxophone for both the Jazz Fusion Ensemble and the UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble. He has been playing musical instruments since he was 3 years old. His love for jazz emerged in middle and high school when he began playing the saxophone.
“It’s really an honor to be working with such high caliber band leaders. … Burrell is a legendary blues guitarist, and Bobby Rodriguez (band leader of the UCLA Latin Jazz Ensemble) is a fantastic band leader,” Rosen said.
The Jazz Fusion Ensemble will be performing its debut concert during this concert.
“Latin Jazz Ensemble obviously is not straight-up jazz music. This is based on particular rhythms from Cuba and Puerto Rico, and it’s all based on the rhythm section and how they play in those particular styles,” said Remi Spiro, third-year ethnomusicology student.
Spiro, who has been a percussionist for 13 years under the tutelage of his father, a professional Latin jazz musician, has been with the Latin Jazz Ensemble since his first year at UCLA.
“All the music we play are original arrangements by our band leader Bobby Rodriguez. You won’t get his kind of dynamic music from Latin genres like salsa for sure. … It has Latin rhythms but a lot of jazz based melodies,” Spiro said.
According to Spiro, there is more to being part of the big bands than just being a good musician.
“I find it very interesting that most of the musicians that come into the bands don’t have experience with this style. They’re fantastic individual musicians but … most of us have essentially had to start over to learn all the particular stylistic aspects,” Spiro said.
According to Spiro, the Latin Jazz Ensemble gets a great reaction from those who listen to the group.
“If people come out, they have a great time and don’t ever regret it,” Spiro said.
According to Rosen, musical art forms such as jazz are not commonly heard around a college campus, and this concert is a fantastic way to change that.
“It’s a rare opportunity … to hear music you don’t hear often, an archaic art form that provides really lucid vibes and great music,” Rosen said.