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The Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble's Fall 2023 Concert

Andrew Neu directs the Swarthmore college jazz ensemble

“When we go out there, look up, and see this sea of people, all of a sudden [we’ll think] ‘Ok, this is real,’ and we’ll get excited on game day,” Andrew Neu—Swarthmore College’s Jazz Ensemble director—said, while speaking about the upcoming performance. The band is preparing for their fall concert, which is free and open to the public, and takes place on November 12th at 7:30pm in the Lang Concert Hall. With pieces ranging from the Beatles to Duke Ellington, the concert aims to captivate audiences while celebrating a genre that is truly timeless. 

Starting with The Nutcracker Suite “Overture”—Ellington’s take on Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet—the first half of the program features a varied repertoire. This section will range stylistically from Duke Ellington to a big band arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. Trumpeter and music major Finn Conaway ‘24 will be featured on “Closely Dancing”, a latin jazz number written by Cuban-American composer Arutro Sandoval.   

Four lively vignettes by vocalists Emily Dai ’25, Lucille Fitch ’27, and Mahika Halepete ’25 make up the middle portion of the concert. Neu aims for this segment to “give the listeners an ear break to keep things interesting.” The “vocals [are] a way of allowing a more natural connection between the musicians and the audience because they speak directly to the audience.” Following this interlude, the latter half of the performance consists of an original song by director Andrew Neu, and classics including “Feeling Good” and George Duke’s crossover hit “Brazilian Love Affair”. 

Throughout the program, Neu hopes to “cover a lot of ground and do things that might be a little more esoteric or . . . experimental.” The band’s versatility will shine through as they are free to explore all different sides of jazz as a genre. “Ideally we're creating new fans and keeping this music from feeling nostalgic or retro,” says Neu. Although some of these pieces have been around for 50 or 60 years, they come alive because the performers interact with them in a personal way. “The person plays it, shapes it and redefines it, and people listen to it. In that moment it's alive and living.” 

At Swarthmore, many of the students come from different backgrounds, and jazz allows them to tell their own stories. Neu’s approach as the director is to step out of the way in order to let the musicians embody the music. “By definition it's about self expression and finding your own voice,” he says. 

There is freedom in the self-expression jazz provides. “A great thing about Swarthmore is that all the students here think creatively. They think outside the box and I think that lends itself to playing jazz because they’re not bound by specific rules,” says Neu. 

At 7:30pm on November 12th at the Lang Concert Hall, the Swarthmore Jazz Ensemble will showcase all they’ve been working on in a performance as diverse and vibrant as the musicians themselves.