Eddy Perez | Photographer | Office of Communications & University Relations
Jazz concert series brings professors and musicians together
The stage is set with all the proper tools—a grand piano, a set of drums, a double bass, two trumpets, and a collection of microphones. Framed in a velvet red curtain, the stage will hold its second jazz performance of the summer.
The newly renovated Shaver Theatre, located in the Music & Dramatic Arts Building on campus, opened its doors June 18 for its first paid-performance, which was also the premier show of the Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz concert series.
The core group of jazz musicians is made up of School of Music Aloysia Landry Barineau Memorial Endowed Professor and jazz pianist Willis Delony, School of Music Emitte E. and David D. White Alumni Association Departmental Professor and bassist William Grimes, and Assistant Professor of Trumpet and Jazz Studies Brian Shaw. This year, the group is also featuring drummer Troy Davis, a Baton Rouge native.
On the evening of June 19, the group featured Associate Professor of Trumpet and Jazz Marty Robinson from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as their guest performer—one of many to be featured throughout the summer series.
“Some of our guest performers have been coming to do this for years,” Shaw said. “There are a few who’ve never played with us, and some of them are very big names.”
This summer marks the 14th year of the series, a set of concerts that has grown to be very popular around the community.
“It’s always been a show people have enjoyed,” Delony said. “But the past four or five years, it’s really taken on a life of its own.”
And Delony is right, like most jazz performances, the show takes unexpected turns, and the musicians play off each other’s vibe.
“When the band is really swinging, there’s a feeling of oneness between the musicians. We’re all playing the same pulse, finding the groove, and locking it so that the tempo is immovable,” Grimes said.
For others, the freedom of jazz is found in the rhythm of the performance.
“A jazz performance is sort of like a conversation,” Shaw said. “Something spontaneous may happen, but you just embrace it.”
For the musicians in this group, the conversation of jazz started years before they all found each other sharing a stage.
Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz was started in the mid 1990s by then School of Music administrator Grimes in an effort to raise money. The idea behind the series was to showcase faculty, as opposed to the usual choir concert or recital. At first, the series was called Bill Grimes and Friends, but was later changed to its current title. Before Shaver Theatre, concerts were held in the School of Music which seats 270 guests compared to Shaver’s 350 guest capacity.
“I think there is a group of people in Baton Rouge who are hungry for quality music, played in a comprehensible manner, yet still artistic,” Grimes said. “We don’t pander to the audience, and I’m convinced that they sense that.”
Grimes has been playing double bass, or jazz bass, since 1966; previously he studied piano. Aside from his work with the jazz bass, he practices composition and arranging. Grimes said he has always been a fan of Miles Davis and Bill Evans, but named Duke Ellington as “the greatest American composer we’ve ever had.”
Delony enjoys classical piano as well as jazz. He admires musician Oscar Peterson and Louisiana pianist Van Cliburn. Delony said he started learning to play piano when he was five years old.
“I learned to read music notes before I learned to read words,” Delony said. “It seemed easier; there were only seven letters.”
Shaw also enjoys classical trumpet as well as jazz. He started learning to play the trumpet in fourth grade. He has always looked up to music greats such as Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen, and Clifford Brown.
Each performance is different; the group might play classical jazz one night and modern the next, and the list of songs is always something new.
“Every show is different,” Shaw said. “People could come see us every night and we would sound different. The rehearsal is easy; sometimes we just play it by ear.”
While the set list and the sound may vary, the audience is guaranteed to hear great music and see a group of people on stage having the time of their lives playing it.
“Probably the single thing that attracts people to these concerts is that they know they’re about to watch five or six people make music and have great fun doing it,” Grimes said. “We’re often grinning at each other, only because this is such a kick.”
Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz will perform Friday, June 26, featuring vocalist Germaine Bazzle along with saxophonist Wes “Warmdaddy” Anderson. The final show will be Friday, July 10, featuring vocalist and trumpeter Tom Birkner.
Holly Ann Phillips | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations