Rowan’s Small Jazz Ensembles take the stage in a night of music and entertainment

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Where could you catch the music of jazz greats Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery and Herbie Hancock on Tuesday night?

The Boyd Recital Hall at Rowan had these works and more as part of the first Small Jazz Ensembles in Concert, presented by the College of Fine and Performing Arts. Three varied instrumental groups of student musicians showcased a month’s work before a crowd of fellow students, parents and others.

The ensembles are formed at the start of the semester through registration, with rearranging sometimes done to ensure a workable band. Each group and their designated instructor, Douglas Mapp or Denis DiBlasio, collaborate on choosing the songs. They officially meet one hour per week to rehearse and go over small-group etiquette.

Mapp said the instructors were looking to see the communication between the musicians to this point.

“They really have to figure out how to communicate visually and sonically, like play something that’ll give somebody else another cue and make it so they’re playing together more intuitively,” Mapp said. “This is one of the best concerts that we’ve had in small groups.”

DiBlasio oversaw the second performers of the night, a four-part band with John Andrelczyk on trombone, Sam Harasink on bass, James Larsen on piano and Keith Bianchini on drums.

The group treated the audience to three songs, rounding out with Benny Golson’s “Blues March.” Trombone was out in front in “Shiny Stockings” by Frank Foster and “Look to the Sky” by A.C. Jobim. By the final tune, each instrument got a chance to be the feature.

Harasink, who has been part of the program every semester, said this year is a little different to start because there isn’t a Lab Band in session. While there are a number of new faces around, most have the same goal in mind.

“Almost everybody in the band is trying to be a teacher,” said Harasink, a junior in his ninth semester of ensembles. “Not only do we play a lot of cool stuff and get a lot better as a group, but we’re also learning how to improve when we’re the ones leading the band.”

“It’s been interesting because I think each group you play with you realize you have a different role.”

Under the direction of Mapp, the first and third ensembles offered opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of instrumentation setup. Those in attendance got a little of everything over the hour show, something that transfer mechanical engineer Melvin Roberts enjoyed.

“I thought that was unique. It kept it fresh,” Roberts said. “I’m taking a jazz class now, trying to get a feel for how things work. It’s so much different hearing a recording and then watching it live.”

Opening the night was the three-piece of Alex Mitchum, Matt Norton and James Byrnes, who made up a more rock-traditional group: guitar, bass and drums, respectively. Their tunes went from a slower tempo with Kern and Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are” to quick with Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six.” Each of the three songs performed had a clear foot-tap-inducing groove.

The final ensemble featured the largest arrangement, with five instrumentalists. Up front, Pat Higgins on baritone saxophone and Adam Malarich on trumpet went back and forth through the four total songs. Louis Pettinelli set the foundation on bass, along with percussionists Joe McGuth and Jonathan Schuman, who switched off playing on the bongos and drum kit.

They gave a smooth side of jazz through a set that included “Body and Soul” by Green and Heyman, “Solar” by Miles Davis, and “Maiden Voyage” by Herbie Hancock.

Higgins, a senior, said the feeling from playing is “indescribable.”

“As a performer, I think most people usually get some kind of jitters, nerves before they play. I mean I definitely do, I still get jitters,” Higgins said. “If you really like doing this, which all of us do, there’s nothing like it.”

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