Sunday, March 2, 2014

Here Come the Judges

Crappy Photo by Evan Brandt
The Boyertown Area High School Big Band gets even bigger when they are joined by the Philadelphia University of the Arts Jazz Band for a joint performance during Saturday night's Jazz in Boyertown event.

Well Boyertown High School Music Director Brian Langdon is full of surprises.

One week after shooting video of the Pottsgrove Jazz Fest, I was wondering what I could do to make shooting two of the same bands playing the same three songs, any different from the first time.

Sure I knew one thing I was going to do.

Last week, Boyertown saxophonist Kelli Hess messaged me on You Tube and asked, very politely, if I had recorded their second song which, some of you will remember, I regretted not recording.

Her also saxophone sole was quite lovely and I had promised her I would record it Saturday and I did.

Here it is:

But other than that, what do do differently?

Enter Brian Langdon, who taught elementary music in Pottstown for several years and is now king of the musical hill in Boyertown and is exposing the students, Boyertown and guests, to some amazing musical experiences.

He had a few surprises up his sleeve.

The first surprise was when he invited the evening's judges to join the Boyertown Area High School Big Band he was directing to join in the performance and help remind us why they are judges.

Hint: They know what they're doing.

Because Boyertown was hosting, they were not part of the competition, so Mr. Langdon could have some fun and he made the most of it.

First up, on the vibraphone, was Dr. Marc Jacoby, an associate professor of music at West Chester University, who serves as jazz studies coordinator there.

Then we heard from Rob Stoneback on trombone, who, for 35 years, had led the Rob Sonteback Big Band and has played the trombone for more than 50 years.

And finally, Michael Cremproplo, a degree holder from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, whose first album will be released this year.

And um, did we mention the University of the Arts?

Well although they too were scheduled to perform, and perform they did, they were also part of Mr. Langdon's second surprise.

He merged them with the high schoolers under his care for a joint performance that was not only something to behold, but the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that, I suspect, many of those kids will not realize the import of until they wake up this morning.

Luckily for all of you, I recorded that performance, battery light blinking the whole time, and you can watch and, more importantly, listen to it below:

As for the Philadelphia University of the Arts band themselves, well they brought the house down.

Unfortunately for the jazz lovers among my readership, technology giveth and technology taketh away.

My battery was deader than a sardine at a shark's birthday party by the time they took to the stage for themselves, so you'll just have to believe me when I say they were awesome.

Anyway, some of you may recall that last week's performances at Pottsgrove were undermined somewhat by microphone problems (the microphone's not working kind of problems).

Well the curse continued for Pottstown's first number, whose primary victim was once again, Marley Bryan's Tenor saxophone solo in "Gravy Waltz," which you can listen to, with some difficulty, below:

Luckily, the problem was solved with a substitute microphone and the slower song, "In a Sentimental Mood," allowed the solo, once again by Bryan, to be heard and appreciated.


And here is Pottstown last tune, "Two Seconds to Midnight," which features solos by Sharif Mohamed on the trombone, Bryan on the tenor sax and Jake Wunderlich on  drums, a solo which earned him one of Pottstown's two best soloist awards.

The second solo award was won by Bryan and Pottstown also earned the designation as the Best Rhythm section.

The entire band earned a rating of "Outstanding," one of three high school bands to earn that rating, making it a truly outstanding night for the Trojans Jazz Meisters.

The ratings in band competitions are, by the way, "Superior," followed by "Outstanding," followed by "Excellent" and then by "Very Good."

No band that performed Saturday night earned a "Superior" rating.

Another band to earn an "Outstanding" rating was the Quakertown High School Community Jazz Ensemble and Natalie Parker, from that band, was also named as one of the three bests soloists for her alto saxophone performance which was, in my humble opinion, truly smoking.

Perhaps that's why they also won the Best Woodwind section award.

They also won the Best Trombone section award.

Also earning an "Outstanding" was the North Penn Navy Band and one of its soloists. I am afraid I did not hear his name clearly enough to attempt to spell it.

The North Penn High School Lab Band earned a rating of "Excellent."

The other band to perform, which also earned a rating of "Excellent," was Joe's Jazz Cafe from Quakertown High School.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention that in between the bands, the audience was treated to another of Mr. Langdon's surprises -- the Boyertown Elementary Jazz Band.

And let me tell you, they were good.

Here they are:

All in all, what I had anticipated being a fairly routine evening turned out to be full of pleasant surprises.

I think its also important to point out that for the Boyertown musicians, the opportunity to play with the University of the Arts musicians, and for the rest of the bands who saw them, Saturday night's music provided perhaps the most important thing education can accomplish -- exposure to new things and new ideas.

Who knows how many lives were changed Saturday night.


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