Seven musicians from the University of Calgary Jazz Orchestra and Chamber Jazz Ensemble won 10 outstanding individual achievement awards at the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival in Chicago last month.
“The band’s gotten really good over the last couple years,” says bassist Hannah MacGillivray who won one of the awards. “In a lot of ways it was ambitious for us to go to this festival, but I think we did really well.”
It’s the second festival that professor Jeremy Brown has taken the U of C Jazz Orchestra to in the last two years.
Last year the jazz ensemble travelled to the University of Idaho Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival where they won an outstanding ensemble award and three outstanding soloist awards.
Brown says the awards in Idaho were unexpected.
“We didn’t go there for the awards,” Brown says, “but it happened.”
Last September they decided to go to another festival. The only other collegiate jazz festival during the academic year that Brown could find was in Chicago.
He didn’t realize at the time that it is a seminal collegiate jazz festival in the United States. The jazz festival accepts 35 entries every year. They applied and got in.
They were the only Canadian ensemble competing in the festival.
Brown says that the U of C ensemble stood out among the other groups because they had approached the festival differently. Most of the 35 groups were jazz combos and big bands.
“You’ve got five trombones, five trumpets and five saxophones and bam-bam-bam,” Brown says. “It’s a festival. Everyone thinks that you have to be fast and loud and heavy.”
But the Calgary ensemble chose to play a different type of jazz.
“I agonized over this,” Brown says, “because you can go for the hard, fast, loud bang-bang-bang rock ’n’ roll stuff or rock-jazz fusion and try and impress everyone with volume, but the essence of jazz still comes back to swing.”
Brown said this style of jazz is not heard too often and that if the band could learn and carry it with them, he thought it would be an important gift.
“I think it was perfect for us,” MacGillivray says. “That’s what set us apart from the rest of the groups. We went back to the roots of jazz, where it all began.”
Brown says the ensemble decided to play three compositions by Benny Carter because they encompass all the major influences of the Count Basie style, or Kansas City swing, that the group wanted to achieve.
“The guitar, bass, drums and piano rhythm section blend so beautifully,” Brown says.
Rather than going for volume, they toned it back with fewer instruments. The approached helped get individual musicians noticed.
“I think that every note played could be heard,” Brown says. “It allowed students a chance to really be expressive.”
He says in some big bands you couldn’t distinguish one musician from the rest of the band.
The U of C ensemble’s approach framed the individual solos.
The 10 outstanding individual achievement awards were given to John Buck, Tristan Campbell, Connor Chisholm, Jacob Fossum, MacGillivray, Julian Pedersen and Bobby Seenanden.