GCC jazz ensembles turned in a dazzling performance at the campus auditorium Saturday night before an enthusiastic audience of more than 100 fans, families and friends.
The Vocal Jazz Ensemble, led by jazz faculty member Clare Delto, opened the show with its version of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” a fun jazz-pop tune popularized by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The melody was beautifully harmonized with some question-and-answer parts trading licks with the rhythm section.
Benny Golson’s standard, “Killer Joe” followed with some nice scat solos and an electric bass solo by Marvin Paez.
The highlight of the first act was a sweet ballad from the musical “Wicked,” which featured solo vocals from Hanna Song and David Kim. This was followed by the funniest moment of the concert when the men of the ensemble did a version of “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” a jug band song made popular in the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The presentation included banjo and spoons.
The Vocal Ensemble wrapped up its set with a funky Earth, Wind and Fire tune, “Shining Star.”
Next up was the Saturday Jazz Tentet led by jazz instructor, Chris Coulter. This smaller version of a swing era big band opened with a swinging rendition of Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie.”
Bassist Armen Mannazyan played along with the intricate melody on an odd shaped instrument, an acoustic bass that looks more like a guitar without frets. It sounded like a cross between an electric bass and an acoustic bass. Mannazyan said, “It was the best sounding acoustic bass for the price.” Upright basses can cost between $6,000 and $15,000. Mannazyan has been studying jazz at GCC for two years.
The Tentet played some Duke Ellington and a calypso version of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas,” which featured a nice solo by pianist Courtland Hayes. A bossa nova version of Silent Night delighted the audience.
The Tentet wrapped up its show with two swing tunes, “Yardbird Suite,” from Charlie Parker, a bebop tune that featured some fine piano work and “Tenor Madness,” a blues tune that featured a tasty solo from tenor saxophonist, Lorrie Freedman.
Freedman said she has only been playing jazz for a couple of years. “I was a marching band kid from public schools,” said Freedman. She has been taking music classes at GCC for a few semesters.
Director Chris Coulter said he was more nervous than the students before their first big concert, but after the show, he added, “They did great.”
Up next was the very unique Jazz Guitar Ensemble, led by the head of the jazz faculty, Byron Delto. This combo consists of five guitars accompanied by a rhythm section of bass and drums. Their performance ran the gamut from swing and bebop to modern jazz fusion and back again.
“Seven Come Eleven,” a Benny Goodman and Charlie Christian collaboration, was the opening number, which featured solos by all five guitarists.
This was followed by a fine arrangement of Woody Shaw’s “Sweet Love of Mine,” written by ensemble member, Steve Han.
The five guitarists played nice tight harmonies on “Nostalgia in Times Square,” and a pretty ballad, “My Ship.” One of the audience’s favorite tunes of the night was, “Above it All,” a Pat Metheny-styled fusion song written by Fred Hamilton.
The Jazz Guitar Ensemble closed with a song from one of the greatest of jazz guitarists, Wes Montgomery.
The Vocal Jazz Ensemble came back to close the show, first with a fun version of Queen’s, “Somebody to Love,” that rocked the house. Next they sang a rousing arrangement of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies,” their salute to the holidays.
The final song of the evening, “Swinging with the Saints,” was a gospel blues a la Take 6 or the Manhattan Transfer.
The show was a crowd pleaser and gave GCC’s music department the chance to show off what Cab Calloway called, “The College of Musical Knowledge.”