“What Is Hip?” Well, according to the not so coincidentally ordered song list from last week’s jazz concert, it’s “Hip To Be Square.” This performance featured a semester’s worth of hard work and dedicated practice from our own Jazz Big Band group. Big Band is an about fifteen-student strong jazz ensemble directed by the very talented, but still energetic and humorous, Tony Gairo. “Big band” is technically a sub genre of jazz music where it is expected that there will be multiple musicians playing each instrument in tandem, orchestra style, that was particularly popular around the WWII era. However, part of the mission that Gairo has for the Big Band jazz ensemble is to prove that it still has contemporary relevance by performing jazz songs that weren’t originally written to be played by a larger jazz ensemble. Last Friday’s concert in the Empie theater covered a wide range of jazz songs and sounds including songs you may know like “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis And The News, and “Hey Jude” by the Beatles.
Going to a Muhlenberg Big Band concert is a unique experience I think you’d only be able to have here. The music was incredible. Jazz fan or not, when music is played with this much personality and energy, there’s no way you can’t enjoy it. The unique aspect specific to this school, and the part that probably struck me the most, was just how casual and confident the whole band was. In between each song, Gairo would jog over to a mic and make comments like what the upcoming song means or make shout-outs to different members of the band and people who helped behind the scenes, waving to those in the audience and even have a quick conversation with one of them in the middle of the show. When the band wasn’t playing, a couple trumpet players might start chatting with each other or a saxophone player might shout about something to Gairo. Much in line with the improvisational but finely tuned feel of jazz music, one moment the group might be all over the place, but as soon as the song starts, they become as organized as a marching band whilst still maintaining that poetic sense of freedom.
Brian Acquaviva ’21, currently the sole trombone player in the band, explains what jazz music means to him: “The way jazz usually works is there’s improv, you saw that with a lot of lower solos especially in ‘Hey Jude,’ but it’s not all about improv,” Acquaviva goes on to explain how these improvised sections fit in with the rest of the published song. “For the solos, we had a predesignated solo section that’s just built into the music, and each of those soloists, the four of them [were] José [Cruz ’18], Johnny [Tamburro ’18], Golan [Gil-More ’18], and Henri [Reiss-NaVarre ’19], they each play that section twice, so they repeated that entire sixteen-ish measure section eight times.”
Acquaviva continues by talking more about the Big Band group and what they typically do. They meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 to 9:00 at night unless Tony, the director, is busy with his other job at Moravian College in Bethlehem. “Directors usually spend, like, at least ten hours working on the next semester’s lineup,” Acquaviva mentions. Every Big Band rehearsal involves practicing the preselected songs in preparation for these end of semester concerts.
If you’re not currently a fan of jazz music, then I believe that you probably just haven’t heard a good jazz number in a while and you should probably go about fixing that. Big Band is a talented and dedicated group that spends all that meeting time practicing for once-a-semester jazz blow outs. I would strongly recommend that anyone who enjoys music should stop by the Big Band’s next free concert at the end of next semester and prepare to hear the proof behind music theory with the accompaniment of a rhythm section. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a jazz orchestra before, but here, they’re kinda a Big deal.