The unmistakable rhythm of jazz is erupting through Chapel Hill in a striking combination of students and professionals.
The UNC Jazz Band is collaborating with renowned composer and bassist Ben Allison. The group will be showcasing both classical and original jazz compositions as part of the department of music’s Scholarship Benefit Series this weekend.
The collaborations included a small group concert Friday, and a larger big-band performance today.
“It’s just a great thing to get to share with people,” said Jim Ketch, music department professor and director of the jazz studies.
“We’ve got a couple of original compositions from students, as well as two pieces written by Ben Allison that he’s adapted for the big-band concert.”
Ketch has been instrumental in helping to arrange the series as a way of recruiting talented students into the music program.
A swing music aficionado, he said he draws his inspiration from a wide variety of classical and modern jazz musicians.
“I’ve got one leg straddling tradition, and on the other side, I like to hear the modern players and see where they’re taking the music,” he said. “Normally I’d just get to conduct the group, but I get to have an active playing part in this one as well, which is exciting.”
The two pieces arranged by Allison, a New York City native, were originally written to be performed in smaller groups, but were modified to incorporate a larger ensemble.
Allison said scoring the pieces for 18 musicians required some finesse.
“This will be the first time these particular arrangements will be played,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a departure from what I usually do, but I wanted to try my hand at big band writing.”
Allison has been touring the world for about 15 years, playing and composing at various music venues.
He said the integration of different musical roles and styles is key for most professional musicians in today’s world.
“Being a musician these days, for many of us, is wearing a lot of hats,” Allison said. “Composers and jazz musicians of today are really incorporating sounds from all over the world into their music.”
Both Ketch and Allison said the improvisational elements of jazz not only make the music fun and exciting, but ensures no two performances will ever be exactly alike.
“The composer writes something but it ends up being a template,” Ketch said. “You sort of add the color through your interpretation. There’s something optimistic about jazz, that’s what makes it so interesting.”
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