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Jazz Faculty Quintet: Wayne, NJ, July 23, 2012

David A. Orthmann By

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Jazz Faculty Quintet
William Paterson University 19th Annual Summer Jazz Week
Wayne, NJ
July 23, 2012

A tribute to the music of Thad Jones by the summer jazz faculty of William Paterson University encompassed a live performance, as well as lessons in history and mythology. Armed with tenor and soprano saxophones, a wealth of knowledge, and the ability to convey Jones' music, life and times in an accessible manner, Dr. David Demsey, Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies, proved that art doesn't have to be cold, distant, or elitist. Speaking in a witty, articulate, straightforward manner between seven selections in an hour-long set, Demsey offered insights into the compositions in layman's terms; told stories about Jones' evolution from Count Basie sideman and arranger to writing for the celebrated Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra; and shared a hilarious anecdote about the unintended consequences of Alec Wilder's lyrics to "A Child Is Born." An audience ranging from high school students (who were on campus for a week-long jazz camp) to senior citizens, listened to Demsey with rapt attention and clearly savored the connections between his words and the music.

Utilizing Demsey's transcriptions of small group arrangements, the band captured the twists, turns, and surprises of Jones' compositions. For example, Demsey's and bass trombonist Tim Newman's deft handling of the complex, elongated "Elusive" made it easier for the audience to appreciate Jones' message. A rhythm section comprised of pianist James Weidman, bassist Marcus McLaurine and drummer Bill Goodwin was equally important in conveying the music's nuances. During "H & T Blues" they gracefully moved from stop time to a steady, throbbing pulse, while the horns stated the theme. In executing an easygoing, medium tempo swing and a skipping, march-like beat, they made the intro and head to "That's Freedom," sound like child's play.

Throughout the set, solos of middling length were smartly integrated into the band's crisp renditions of Jones' compositions. Demsey's turn on "Evol Deklaw Ni" inserted a quote from "Love Walked In" (Jones' inspiration for the tune), offered an extended, busy run, and then paused after beginning a chorus in a rapid fire manner. Newman's "Kids Are Pretty People" solo echoed the tune's melody, expanded a three-note phrase, and waxed elephantine at one key juncture. Buoyed by McLaurine's and Goodwin's unfussy, swinging foundation, Weidman's "H & T Blues" improv included a combination of relatively simple, direct lines, a few curt chords, and ringing, quicksilver single-note runs.

Apart from the audience's enthusiastic applause after each selection and at the concert's end, there was another sign that the band's performance and Demsey's words had drawn people into Jones' world. A family of three in the second row was visibly digging the music, each in their own way. The unguarded pleasure they took in the sounds was truly a joy to behold. So hats off to Demsey and company for their ability to present jazz in a way that transcends generations, engages the intellect, and nourishes the soul.

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