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The Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble's Spring 2024 Performance

The Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble performs in Lang Concert Hall in the Fall of 2023

On Sunday, April 7 at 7:30 PM in the Lang Concert Hall, the Swarthmore College Jazz Ensemble, directed by Andrew Neu, will perform a repertoire of classic big band and modern jazz pieces.

The concert will be divided into two halves with a series of vocal vignettes replacing the intermission. Both segments will feature the full ensemble performing works such as Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Here’s a Rainy Day” and Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford.” 

“Lots of times when people think of big bands, they think of very old stuff like Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and we’ll certainly be performing pieces by some of their contemporaries,” Neu says, “but often we will also try to tap into big bands that were playing concert jazz.” These types of pieces were composed to be performed in more formal settings rather than dance halls and night clubs, which is a style colloquially known as “martini jazz.” With this blend of genres, the band hopes to bring a more well-rounded and diverse repertoire to the stage for the audience. 

The three vocalists in the band - Mahika Halepete, Phoebe Knapp, and Jonathan Melchor - will each perform a piece with the support of the full ensemble. One of those selections is “Fly Me to the Moon”, which is famously associated with the Apollo space missions. 

“This is actually one of my favorite pieces,” Professor Neu says. “It’s been recorded many times, but perhaps the most iconic of which was done by Frank Sinatra at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas.” This recording was completed in 1966 alongside the Count Basie Orchestra and conducted by Quincy Jones. “It was just a parade of incredible talent, ” Professor Neu remarks. “We were definitely inspired by that music and I hope that we can capture its essence with our own unique performance.” 

Another, more modern piece on the program is the titular song from the 2014 film Whiplash. A traditional big band piece recorded by Don Ellis in 1973, the song serves as a centerpiece in the movie which, appropriately for the concert, is all about the college jazz band experience. “The movie's popularity has made the song "Whiplash" by Hank Levy represent the difficulties of studying jazz,” Solomon Murdock ‘24 says. “Seniors who have been in the jazz band since their freshman year get to choose a song to play during their senior spring. I chose "Whiplash" as my senior song to highlight all the hard work that goes into producing a jazz concert.”

Rather than a standard intermission, the program will feature a section similar to a cabaret. Vocalists will pair with small groups of musicians to deliver intimate and unique vignettes. “I think, with this, the vocalists can really make a personal connection with those who are listening,” Professor Neu says. “The vocalists with the lyrics are able to communicate their story in a more literal way.” 

Professor Neu aims to present a varied repertoire to audiences with this semester's program. “One of the great things about doing a concert with the amount of material that we have is being able to showcase the many different types of jazz and types of pieces,” he says. “It allows us to program things that are maybe a little bit more subtle and esoteric.” Many of the works that the band performs won’t be big flag-wavers or very well-known, but he hopes that the concert will be paced in a way that the quiet, intimate pieces are balanced with the loud and grand performances. 

Programming like this is made possible through the excellent musicianship and collaboration between the ensemble members and Professor Neu, which he comments on: “It’s a great band and a lot of the musicians have been with us since last semester. That consistency really helps me pick repertoire because I know the strengths of the band and try to feature certain musicians based on that knowledge.” 

“As the semester has progressed, the band members have gotten used to playing together, and the band has gotten more cohesive,” Murdock ‘24 says. At the start of the year, the band struggled as new first-year members joined and seniors left. However, through their hard work and collaboration, they’ve managed to overcome these difficulties and prepare for the upcoming performance. 

“I think if I’ve done my job correctly, I should be able to step aside and let the students do their own thing,” Professor Neu says. “With the amount of time and effort they put into this performance, they’ll be able to play independently and show themselves that they can really do it as musicians.” 

The concert will be held on Sunday, April 7th at 7:30 PM in the Lang Concert Hall. It is free and open to the public, no reservations required