The Northwest Jazz Ensemble and Studio Jazz Ensemble took the jazz to the grass 6 p.m. Oct. 5. at the Raymond J. Courter College Park Pavilion, as COVID-19 mitigation efforts prompted them to host their first concert of the semester outside.
As the concert began, the sun drifted behind the Pavilion’s rooftop, casting a golden glow over the surrounding trees’ barely yellowing leaves and the crowd of 100 spread across the lawn. An additional 170 people popped in over the livestream, watching under the glow of their phone or computer instead.
It was a calm, 70-degree evening, an improvement from the windy afternoon rehearsal that forced performers to put bricks on their music stands just to keep them from falling over and Director William Richardson to invest in 300 clothespins to secure music sheets earlier in the day. “Terrible” is the word Richardson used to describe the rehearsal, which senior trumpet player Delaney Lynam echoed with the word “rough.”
With the use of bell covers over the ends of the horns, players wearing masks and 6 feet of separation, it’s hard enough to listen to one another without the added challenge of the wind, Lynam explained. They just had to trust that if they were in time with the director, they were on time with the group, even when the wind died down for the performance.
For some like senior audience member Sarah Horseman, the weather is what drew them to the concert.
“My roommate and I decided to come to the concert as a way to get out and really enjoy the weather while it’s still enjoyable,” Horseman said. “I think having a jazz concert outside really adds to the atmosphere.”
At one point, the jingle of a dog collar harmonized with the music as a couple walked by with their pup, an occurrence that would be uncommon at an indoor performance.
This was one of two performances the jazz bands will have this semester. For those who didn’t also perform in the Bearcat Marching Band’s pep rally a couple weeks ago, this was their first time playing for an audience in over six months. It was a pleasure some weren’t sure they would have this year.
“Yes, we are making music for us, especially with the uncertainty of even having performances. Rehearsing is a lot for ourselves, for us getting to play, and getting to play in front of people is just an added bonus,” Lynam said. “Everyone’s been in quarantine and just not been able to do the same things, so any chance to do anything like is — means the world to just one person, that’s enough.”
In many ways, the concert was a sign of the times. With masked players spread across the length of the Pavilion and many audience members wearing masks while sitting atop their blankets, COVID-19 mitigation efforts were apparent throughout. And as a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, the setlist exclusively featured songs composed or made famous by African American artists, like “Big Dipper” by Thad Jones and “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancok.
“It seemed like this is the time. Whether you’re a fan of the Black Lives Matter movement or not, it seems — I wasn’t alive in the 1960s; I was born in 1969 — but it feels kind of like that (the 1960s) right now,” Richardson said. “I think it’s right to focus on great African-American art, and this was a great way to do it. And to start off the year, I was more than happy to do that.”