The Glendale College music department presented a three-part jazz ensemble performance to a packed auditorium on Nov. 19.
The evening performance started before the show, with members of the Saturday Jazz Band performing a warm-up act in the auditorium lobby as people entered to buy tickets. The mother of one of the band players was there, celebrating her birthday in a balloon-clad walker as she watched her son perform.
By 7:20 p.m., the lobby was packed with the people, tapping their feet, bobbing their heads, and snapping their fingers to the rhythm of the beat. The audience interacted with the Saturday Jazz Band, and the atmosphere was warm — a sharp contrast to the 50 degrees Fahrenheit weather outside.
The lively atmosphere continued as the audience started to fill the auditorium. House manager Norman Knight borrowed a reporter’s program to introduce the three groups performing that night: the Vocal Jazz Ensemble, led by director Claire Delto; the Jazz Guitar Ensemble, led and accompanied by director Byron Delto; and the Saturday Jazz Band, led by director Craig Kupka.
Tenor Joenhel Cayanan introduced the Vocal Jazz Ensemble, which opened up the night with a vocal rendition of Carole King’s “Jazzman” in a display of the ensemble’s vocal range as soprano and alto singers alternated with the tenor and bass singers.
Afterwards, they performed an improvisational piece acappella, which wasn’t part of the program but a nice surprise nevertheless.
The next piece, “Unforgettable,” was led by bass singer Christopher Caplan and soprano Nikki Klungkist and had a nice touch of self-reference.
Originally composed by Nat King Cole, the song is meant to be sung as a duet. The lyrics consist of two lovers, declaring each other unforgettable. The soloists sang the duet like two lovers — and ironically enough, they are.
“Brown Eyed Girl” had no instruments and focused on the ensemble’s range — it was performed a cappella with Cayanan as the soloist.
“Mister Sandman” was sung by the soprano and alto portions of the ensemble accompanied by a piano. Unlike the original, which was meant to be sung by men and referenced the dream as a woman, the lyrics were changed from original — the singers were purely women, so the song referenced the “dream guy” instead of the “dream girl” that the original song’s lyrics had.
The Vocal Jazz Ensemble then went offstage and the Jazz Guitar Ensemble entered the stage, starting their intro with Charles Mungus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square.” The guitarists performed in perfect unison, alternating solos between Jihwan Kim, then Bryan Avey and finally Garni Barsikhi.
After “Nostalgia” came another dose of nostalgia, this time in the form of Charlie Haden’s “Our Spanish Love Song,” a slow, tango-esque song.
Guitarist Barsikhi performed another solo piece, his twanging of the guitar resonating throughout the auditorium as he finished his solo to enthusiastic applause. The guitarists ended “Love Song” with rapid strumming, driving the sensation of heartache home.
The Vocal Ensemble returned to finish the first half of the evening, opening with an interactive improvisational piece, where three of the ensemble singers led the three parts of the audience (left, right and center) in singing “doo doo doo,” “abom bom bom,” and “dee dah” to accompany the rest of the ensemble in the improvisation. Pretty soon, most of the audience was performing along with the ensemble and supporting band.
“One of the things that we’ve done this semester is [learn to] make up our own little songs,” said Delto.
After the improvisation came a rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” led by alto singer Nelly Bainum. During the middle of “‘A’ Train,” the left portion of the ensemble moved aside during the middle of the piece to showcase the back players in alternating solos – saxophone, drums, piano, drums again, guitars, and drums once more.
“How High The Moon” was the next piece, led by soprano Diana Lozano and her soulful voice. The piece was performed with a quick, ragtime-esque tempo that was slightly faster than the original.
The next piece was a bit confusing – tenor “Blue” Josiah Perez started singing on his own, singing – “doon, doon” – and little by little the rest of the ensemble members joined in.
After a while it became evident that the ensemble was singing an improvisational piece and not “Thriller,” the last piece of the first half of the night. Perez led the ensemble’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s ghoulish piece, half singing, half chanting the end of the song in a dark voice.
“Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is at hand,” growled Perez.
During intermission, the Saturday Jazz Band set up, and a harmonious cacophony filled the stage as each player was playing different warm-up tunes. One could almost hear the Tetris theme song playing somewhere in the mix of tunes.
The second half of the night began as the Saturday Jazz Ensemble walked offstage, except for Barsikhi who played a guitar intro to Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces.”
Soon after, the members of the Saturday Jazz Band danced into their seats and started playing along, followed by Kupka. He began conducting while dancing, calling for the audience to do the same.
“Remember, jazz music is about singing and dancing!” he exclaimed, motioning the audience to get up and dance. Two women did get up and start dancing, but that was about it.
“Pieces” had a sax solo, followed by another, somewhat overpowering guitar solo by Barsikhi.
Kupka stopped the band abruptly and asked them,“you done, or should we go on?” A couple of seconds of silence fill the auditorium before the band sprung up and finished the piece.
Kupka turned the pace down a notch to a slower piece with Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Hours of the Morning.” Vocals were sung by Dave Goldson, who was dressed in similar fashion to the iconic singer.
Before performing Perez Prado’s “Mambo Jambo,” Kupka asked the audience to imitate Prado’s trademark “UH!” cry heard in the original piece. “Mambo Jambo” was occasionally out of sync, and few of the members of the audience said “UH!” and when they did it was at the wrong time. Despite these small flaws, the Saturday Jazz Band’s rendition of “Jambo” was one of the best renditions of the night.
“And now we’re going to do a Monty Python and do something completely different,” said Kupka.
The next piece, “The Man I Love,” was a complete turnaround from the fast tempo of “Jambo.” Vocals were sung by Lea Frechette, dressed in a black lace outfit. The band matched her shifts in volume well, rising and falling when she did.
The next piece was a seasonal one – “The First Noel,” with a sax and trumpet solo in the mix. The guitar switched from Barsikhi to Kim for this piece.
After “Noel,” Kupka asked the band to play the Sharp 11th chord. According to Kupka, the Sharp 11th was a chord found in several jazz pieces.
“I want you to dig it!” he said to the audience.
The band then played an instrumental version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” accompanied by
solos on saxophone, trumpet, and finally bass. The guitar shifted from Kim to Mark Markarian, a member of the Jazz Guitar Ensemble.
According to Kupka, the next piece, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” was inspired by the recent Occupy movements held around the US.
“We’re going to occupy the auditorium,” said Goldson, who sang the vocals for “Nice Work.”
“The man who only live for making money,” sang Goldson, “lives a life that isn’t necessarily sunny…”
“And now, we’re going to embrace,” Kupka said, hugging Frechette as an introduction to “Embraceable You,” a love song consisting of slow crescendos throughout.
Frechette’s singing and dress made this piece feel like if it were sung in the first half of the 20th century, transporting the listener to the past via Frechette’s voice.
Kupka shifted the band’s tempo again with Cannonball Adderley’s “Sack O’ Woe,” a piece with a bouncy feel to it. Kim took the guitar for this performance, which had sax and trumpet solos.
“Sack O’ Woe” felt slightly out of sync at the beginning, but it was hardly noticeable nor did it last very long. The piece ended with a strong saxophone finish.
The last piece of the night was “Mack the Knife” with Goldson at the vocals. The band played quieter at Kupka’s request, because they’d been overpowering the vocal portions of the songs during the second half of the night.
The guitar went to Markarian, who along with the rest of the band ended the night with better control of volume and good synchronization.
Something interesting that was noticeable throughout the night was that although audience participation was encouraged throughout the night, few did. It wasn’t because the ensembles weren’t engaging; it felt more like the audience didn’t want to interfere with the performance.
“Unforgettable,” “Nostalgia in Times Square,” “Our Spanish Love Song,” “Pick Up The Pieces,” Mambo Jambo,” and “Sack O’ Woe” were the most captivating pieces of the night. Also engaging was Kupka — he was full of energy, jovial and charismatic, dancing to the beat he conducted.
The performances were faithful to the original pieces while adding twists that made the performances unique to the performers — whether it be modifying lyrics, changing the tempo or involving the audience. The atmosphere was a welcoming and informal one, making the evening a relaxed, nostalgic ride. Overall, the ensembles were stellar and delivered a night worthy of remembering.
rating – 5/5