The Luther College Jazz Orchestra, Ben Ostrem on tenor sax.

Echos of Sparke & Ellington: Luther College Family Day Concerts

Luther College, a private college in Decorah, Iowa, is home to one of the US’s largest collegiate music programs. The college celebrated Family Weekend September 22-24, 2017, and I attended the Saturday midday performances by the Concert Band and Jazz Orchestra.

Concert Band

First on the program was the Concert Band, an ensemble of approximately 60 students directed by Joan deAlbequerque. Luther College has three bands, and the Concert Band is the top auditioned band. I’ve always found the musicianship of this ensemble to be top notch. My son, Ben, played euphonium with the group for two years and went on their performance tour of Spain in June of this year.

Luther College Concert Band led by Joan deAlbuquerqu
Luther College Concert Band led by Joan deAlbuquerque at the September 23, 2017 Family Day performance

The Concert Band opened with “Dance Movements” by Philip Sparke. This piece consists of four movements; the second movement is all woodwinds, the third movement is all brass, and the first and fourth movements have the full band playing. This was an ambitious piece which the ensemble pulled off after just a few weeks of practice. (Note: videotaping is prohibited by the college, so enjoy this performance from the March 2017 Championship for Wind Bands competition in Belgium.)

Next on the Concert Band’s program was “Danzon No. 2” by Arturo Marquez, originally written for orchestra but adapted for wind ensembles. Director deAlbuquerque explained that the band performed at one location in Spain with a local ensemble which played this piece and the entire audience was soon dancing to the latin rhythms. I have loved this piece for several years, and it has haunting and memorable melodies which echo throughout the group with solos by clarinet, flute, piano, trumpet, English horn and other instruments. An expanded percussion section also plays an important part in this piece.

The percussion section comes to the forefront for the Concert Band's performance of Arturo Marquez's "Danzon No. 2"
The percussion section comes to the forefront for the Concert Band’s performance of Arturo Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2”

The Concert Band concluded with two pieces traditionally played at the end of each of its concerts: Bach’s “Who Puts His Trust in God Most Just” followed immediately by Sousa’s rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The Bach piece’s combination of lyrical instrumental tones combined with the band members’ acapella singing of the verses is beautiful and profound. The Sousa march that follows is a fast and fitting end to any performance, with the piccolo solo leading into the trumpet and trombone sections’ marching to the front of the band for the finale.

Jazz Orchestra

After a brief intermission to allow for a set change on stage, the 20-member Jazz Orchestra led by Juan Tony Guzman began its first performance of the school year. Director Guzman explained that this performance would feature traditional jazz tunes such as those composed by Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Charlie Parker.

One of the first numbers was Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” featuring David Blackstad on baritone saxophone, who gave a masterful performance.

The Luther College Jazz Orchestra performs "Sophisticated Lady" with soloist David Blackstad on bari sax.
The Luther College Jazz Orchestra performs “Sophisticated Lady” with soloist David Blackstad on bari sax.

Another Ellington composition featured saxophone section leader Peter Mathistad on clarinet.

Luther College Jazz Orchestra led by Dr. Juan Tony Guzman. Tenor sax soloist is Peter Mathistad, section leader.
Luther College Jazz Orchestra led by Dr. Juan Tony Guzman. Clarinet soloist is Peter Mathistad.

The entire saxophone section picked up clarinets for Fletcher Henderson’s “Down South Camp Meeting.”

Next up was a Charlie Parker composition, “Scrapple from the Apple” which featured solos on trombone, alto and tenor sax.

Lauren Sather on alto sa
Lauren Sather on alto sax.

 

Trombone soloist on "Scrapple from the Apple."
Trombone soloist on “Scrapple from the Apple.”

To get the flavor of this bebop tune, here’s a smaller group performing “Scrapple from the Apple.”

A trumpet soloist nailed the slow lyrical arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

The Jazz Orchestra ended its set with the standard “Cherokee” which featured soloists Lauren Sather, lead alto sax, and Peter Mathistad, lead tenor saxophone.

This was a great opening to both ensemble’s school year. I’m looking forward to hearing even better concerts from them as the year progresses!

 

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