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Backstage jazz – it’s a swing thing

Oct. 21, several jazz bands from the Michigan Technological University jazz program performed in a backstage concert. The concert showcased music from a wide range of eras, from traditional jazz to modern pop culture.

“We rocked that show,” Said bass player Harrison (The Hair) Harland “Everyone did a really good job.”

Three bands performed a selection of pieces that they had been preparing since the beginning of the semester in August. The opening band of the concert was the Research and Development (R&D) Jazz band. The R&D Jazz band played a selection of standards from the era of classic white jazz. Starting off with Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”, R&D Jazz Band showcased their ability to precisely follow technical chord changes and complex charts. Their next song featured vocalist David Brown, who also plays acoustic guitar and performs at venues in the region.

R&D Jazz Band moved on to a jazz piece called “Let’s Get Down”, and featured solos from several of the musicians in the band. These musicians were Sidney Nelson on trumpet, Hayla Moon on baritone saxophone, and Samuel Caulkman on vibraphone. For this song as well as  the previous three, dancers from the MTU Swing Club also performed with traditional swing dances from that era. These included the East Coast Triple Step, the Charleston, and the Lindy Hop.

R&D Finished out their set with “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing”, a standard jazz tune with Latin influence. This piece also featured vocalist Audrey Wheeler.

The second band to perform in the show was the VGM Band, short for Video Game Music. This band featured music from video games like “Mario Kart” and “Faster Than Light.” All of the music performed in this set was arranged by the musicians themselves.

VGM Band started their set with a popular tune from “Mario Kart” titled, “Mushroom Bridge Mushroom City.” Next they played Themes from “Faster Than Light”, arranged by the aforementioned Samuel Caulkman. They ended their set with another popular song from Mario Kart.

“Sam was, as some musicians may say, a little unkind to be switching time signatures that fast,” Said Jim Swainley, referring to Caulkman’s arrangement of Themes From Faster Than Light, “but we had so much fun with it.”

The band to close out the concert was the Workshop Brass Band. This high-energy New Orleans style brass band rocked the audience with swung and funky trad jazz as well as some newer arrangements by popular modern New Orleans brass bands.

Their set started with a lonely trombone passionately wailing “St. James Infirmary”, before taking off with the rest of the band to a pumped-up version of that tune. Other tunes on the Brass Band’s set list included “Eliza Jane”, “Kickin’ It Live”, “When the Saints Go Marching”, and “Hurricane George”.

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