For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Weber State University Jazz Ensemble returned to the stage for an in-person concert on Oct. 26 in the Allred Theater.
The performance brought back an old-timey feeling with a variety of big band and softer jazz music pieces. The WSU Vocal Jazz and dancers from the WSU Big Band Swing Club also performed at the concert, adding to the energy onstage.
The concert started with a few songs from WSU Vocal Jazz. Then the WSU Jazz Ensemble took the stage, joined at times by vocal soloist Haven McGee, clarinet Andrew Hinze and the swing dancers.
Daniel Tracy, who plays the upright bass, said it was exciting and relieving to play in person with others again. Jazz is a style of music that reflects the live feelings of the musicians and often focuses on improvisation and carries a call-and-response pattern, so this in-person setup is almost necessary.
“It is a live music meant to be performed and interacted in a unique way every time that it happens,” Tracy said.
AJ Fewkes, who plays the tenor saxophone, said while there are more nerves in live performances, the previous recordings and livestreams they had been able to do before didn’t feel as real. He also didn’t feel like he had a reason to practice then.
“Here a mistake is part of the art, but in recordings I could just do it over and over and over again,” Fewkes said.
Fewkes also talked about the importance of live emotion in jazz music and relayed his relief of being able to perform in-person with others in front of an audience again.
“It’s one of the purest forms of art, and that’s what I like about being live — it feels artful again,” Fewkes said.
Dan Jonas, associate professor of music and director of the Jazz Ensemble, said the performance went well and that there was an electric energy onstage. He said he knew the students were excited to perform and hoped that “some of that energy translated to the audience.”
The theme of the night was centered around the pandemic — with song titles such as “Fever,” “Too Close for Comfort” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” — as well as the joy of coming back — “In the Mood” and “Here’s to Life.”
When Jonas was originally selecting songs, he had been at home a lot for the past 18 months and had a few in mind that he really wanted to play with a big group, including “Fever.” He then worried, though, that maybe playing a song with such a title wasn’t a good idea in a pandemic.
However, with the advice of his wife, he decided to accept it and go along with the theme as well as selecting other jazz favorites and swing classics.
“It’s been a crazy 18 months, and maybe if we embrace it, it’s a good way for us to kind of have some catharsis and deal with what’s happened,” Jonas said.
One of the songs played was the first-ever performance of a piece arranged by Tracy, who is in his last semester with the jazz ensemble as he prepares to graduate in spring with a bachelor’s degree in music education.
The piece, titled “C’est Moi,” featured a serialism pattern. Tracy said it was exciting to hear real people with souls playing his own composition, rather than just hearing it out of his laptop with robotic instruments.
Jonas said that last year the jazz ensemble was still able to meet in person, but that they had many restrictions such as short, 30-minute rehearsals, covers they had to place over the bells of the instruments and special masks the musicians had to wear while playing. He said it was great that they could still do something, still make music, but it was still a hard year.
He said it’s been very exciting this year to come back to normal full rehearsals and in-person performances. At the end of the concert Jonas thanked the audience for supporting live music and joked that “the band was jazzed to play for you tonight.”
Jonas announced that the jazz ensemble would be recording an album of the songs they had performed in December. The new recording studio in the Browning Center is not big enough for the big band, so he’s going to take them to a large professional studio in Salt Lake City where they’ll have all the room they need and a microphone for each instrument, and the students can get a great professional experience.
Jonas said that nothing like this has happened before with the WSU Jazz Ensemble, so he’s really excited for this album.