Every so often a new undergraduate Jazz Studies program steps forward to make its voice heard loudly and clearly as it establishes itself among the front ranks of college Jazz ensembles. The latest to do this is the University of Michigan, and here we have the Low–Down to prove it. The UM big band has come a long way in a brief time under talented composer / pianist / director Ellen Rowe, the proof of which is readily apparent throughout the ensemble’s debut recording, completed over a four–day period in May ’99. Rowe, a fan of the late composer / trumpeter Thad Jones, chose as the album’s title selection one of Thad’s most lyrical and engaging works (wonderfully performed by the ensemble around snazzy solos by tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, trumpeter Dylan Kruziki and pianist Brian DiBlasio). “Low–Down” is only one among many highlights, however; the fun gets under way immediately with bassist John Clayton’s swinging treatment of the standard “’Deed I Do” (complete with synchronous sax soli) and continues through Michael Brecker’s “Madame Toulouse” (arranged by Rowe, as is the lovely Gershwin standard “I’ve Got a Crush on You”), tenor Andrew Bishop’s sensuous tango, “Funeral Music for Jobim and Piazzolla” (on which he’s also the soloist), Paul Ferguson’s emphatic “Rooms for Tourists” (recorded four years ago by Germany’s superb RIAS Big Band on the album Blue Highways ), UM faculty member Ed Sarath’s free–wheeling “Solidarity” (the most adventurous piece on the program) and Neal Hefti’s well–written page from the Basie book, “Splanky.” There’s one vocal, by Sachal Vasandani, on his Billy May–like arrangement of the Nat Cole hit, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.” Soloists are respectable, about what one would expect from a first–rank college–level ensemble, and Rowe gives nearly everyone a chance to ad–lib including Bauder, Bishop, Kruziki, DiBlasio, trombonist Vincent Chandler (admirably showcased on “Crush on You”), vibraphonist Steven Aho, trumpeters Tal Kopstein and Ben Polcer, baritone David Luther, tenor / soprano Mike Bromwell, pianists Neil Donato and Ben Yonas, alto Dean Moore II and guitarist Randy Napoleon. This solid, no–frills big–band session betokens an outstanding debut for Rowe’s UM ensemble, one that is easily recommended.
Track listing: ’Deed I Do; Madame Toulose; Funeral Music for Jobim and Piazzolla; Low–Down; I’ve Got a Crush on You; Walkin’ My Baby Back Home; Rooms for Tourists; Solidarity; Splanky (59:39).
Ellen Rowe, director; Mike Bomwell, Dean Moore II, Bryan Pardo, Matt Bauder, Peterson Ross, David Luther, saxophones; Bert Johnson, Dylan Kruziki, Jeremy McBain, Tal Kopstein, Ben Polcer, trumpets; John Rutherford, Terry Kimura, Drew Leslie, Garrett Mendez, trombones; Brian DiBlasio (1, 4, 5, 8), Neil Donato (3, 6, 7), Ben Yonas (2, 9), piano; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Zach Wallace (1, 3
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.