Sounds of Ellington, Strayhorn jazz up a crowd

Photo Courtesy of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough/Flickr

Photo Courtesy of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough/Flickr

By Cassandra Hardman, Staff Writer

Published in print Feb. 25, 2015

The lobby was filled with excitement and chatter as concert attendees for UNCG’s Jazz Ensembles waited for the recital hall doors to open. The strong notes of saxophones, trumpets and clarinet paired with the smooth sounds of a guitar while piano captured the ears of the audience.

UNCG Jazz Ensemble II gracefully took the stage first. Immediately, with directions from their band director Brandon Lee, the band began to play, and the beautiful upbeats forced you to tap your feet. The band’s instruments took over the room and it felt like time went back to the 1920’s.

band seemed to be taking us back to the years of the Harlem Renaissance, which was an extraordinary time of cultural and artistic growth in the African-American community. Both bands had chosen the music of Duke Ellington which he made as tribute to Billy Strayhorn. As Lee introduced each song, he would give a brief history of its importance and why he chose that particular tune to be played.

“Blood Count”, the third song of the program, Lee said, was his favorite and the most popular at that time. Billy Strayhorn, Ellington band’s pianist, wrote the song on his deathbed. “Ellington was unique in how he picked his musicians,” Lee added.

Alto saxophone player Jacob Goforth appeared to have stolen the show with his heartfelt solos in “Blood Count” and “Snibor”. Each time a different band member stood for their turn on solo the crown would be amazed more than the last. Clarinetist Rose Kim and trumpet player Tyler Throgmorton also amazed the crowd with their solos throughout the program. Lee used his band as a musical laboratory for the compositions and shaped the choice of how to play the songs to showcase all the talents of his band members.

“U.MM.G.” was a song that Lee said sounded easy because of its smooth melody, but was actually one of the more difficult songs for the band.

“I left them alone to figure things out,” he said in his introduction to the piece. “They did their own homework and decided what they wanted to do.”

After Ensemble I cleared the stage, Ensemble II and their director Chad Eby quickly jumped right into their set program. “Most of these are pretty short so we should be out of here by midnight depending on how much I talk,” Eby said jokingly before introducing his band to the audience. Ensemble II’s program consisted of 12 songs, most of them slightly more subtle than the songs played by Ensemble I.

Eby used his good spirits and sense of humor to introduce the upcoming song or soloist and keep the crowds attention throughout the transitions of the band’s songs. When introducing “Up and Down, Up and Down”, Eby reached to grab a Duke Ellington record that he had brought with him. Several audience members seemed amazed that he had the record; someone sitting in the front even asked him what it was.

“This is a really big MP3,” Eby replied, laughing. Finishing his introduction, he invited violin player Taya Ricker to the stage, saying, “The song tells a story of a beautiful mess. When each person plays alone it doesn’t sound too good but together it’s beautiful.”

The audience loved it, but what was next to come the audience wasn’t ready for. As Eby began to move the microphones back he informed the audience that one of the band’s biggest, loudest trumpet players was up next, Tim Morgan. As the band began to play “Madness in Great Ones”, a track off of a Shakespeare-inspired record, the audience started to look around and at each other in amazement of what they were hearing. Morgan had stolen the show.

Duke Ellington’s name and image are familiar to many; his life and success were fabricated from threads of the black community and the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the most important composers in the history of jazz and a well-known bandleader, who successfully held his group together continuously for more than 50 years. Ellington’s blend of melodies, rhythms and beautiful ballad writing gave his audience a new experience each time he played.

As the program came to an end members of the band and the department greeted the audience as they cleared the recital hall, sharing with them new and old C.D.’s they had for sale and upcoming events in April. Visit the UNCG’s School of Music website at to view the list of future upcoming concerts and festivals.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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