A calm evening of exciting jazz
"A calm evening of exciting jazz" just about sums up the experience of a hundred or so people on Devon House east lawn last Thursday. It was International Jazz Day and, once again, the Edna Manley College (EMC) of the Visual and Performing Arts, mainly through its School of Music, had organised a concert to celebrate the event.
Countless other institutions and groups around the world were similarly occupied, for, following a UNESCO proclamation in November 2011 and beginning in the following year, April 30 has been celebrated annually as International Jazz Day.
Earlier in the day, at the college, a panel comprising Herbie Miller, curator of the Jamaica Music Museum, Orville Hammond, a lecturer at the School of Music, and United States-based bassist Wayne Batchelor, led a discussion on the topic 'Jazz as a Force for Peace, Freedom and Creativity'. The topic is in line with the online blurb for the UNESCO proclamation that jazz is considered "a voice of freedom and empowerment and a statement against injustice and oppression all around the world."
evolution of jazz
And the fact that jazz has spread all over the globe, being influenced by and influencing other musical forms and genres and so is constantly evolving, was echoed by the informative emcee, RJR's Derek Wilks, who listed more than a score of styles and varieties of jazz. Later, the audience heard from Michael 'Ibo' Cooper that Jamaica's ska music, specifically, is one of those jazz-influenced musical forms.
Seated on white plastic chairs on the Devon House grass, the audience enjoyed the music under skies which were just slightly overcast, not too much to prevent a nearly full moon and a few stars from peeking through. The temperature was pleasantly cool - like much of the jazz.
Third-year student Jamila James' Love for Sale, was an example of that, as was, later, Serena Constantine's smooth The End of a Love Affair. In between those two songs, however, came the bouncy Skatalites composition, Bridge View, which was played by a band of professionals led by Cooper on piano.
The combination of EMC students and their lecturers, and a handful of off-campus guests, including graduates, was pretty much the order of the first half of the evening. No doubt the best students were chosen; certainly all acquitted themselves well.
Vocal Jazz Ensemble
And nowhere did they do better than in their collective appearance in the newly formed Edna Manley College Vocal Jazz Ensemble, an aggregation of about a dozen singers, which made its debut that night. Conducted by School of Music lecturer Ruth Royes, the group sang three songs, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Run to You and I Got Rhythm.
Demonstrating excellent tone, dynamics and ability to harmonise, the ensemble was a total delight. The enthusiastic applause it received showed the audience wanted a few more items.
The second half of the concert was devoted to music by the professionals - lecturers and their guests. There were some comings and goings of individuals from the bandstand in the last hour or so, but the full complement of what Wilks called, "The EMC Jazz Ensemble", consisted of - for the night, anyway - Hammond on piano, Maurice Gordon on guitar, Derrick Stewart on drums, Reuben Betty on congas, Wayne Batchelor on double bass, and, in the horn section, Nicholas Laroque (tenor sax), Rafael Salazar (alto sax) and Mickey Hanson (trumpet and flugel horn).
Steel pan lecturer, Gay Magnus, played with the band on her tenor pan for one up tempo tune. The high-pitched tone of the quarter-size steel drum added an unusual, very enjoyable, dimension to the overall sound.
Ruth Royes Set
Royes was the last singer for the evening. Her songs, Good Morning Heartache and the cute-but-complex That There - one of her favourites, she said, because it was so interesting "melodically and lyrically" - were real crowd-pleasers. The concert ended, just after 10 p.m. with the lively Catalina Island.
Music was not the only attraction of the evening. Off stage, there were a couple of booths (apart from the stall with refreshment), one with photos from the Jamaica Music Museum and one with three School of Art students painting scenes of jazz musicians playing their instruments. Patrons were encouraged to touch small sections of the canvases.