Wayne Corey lives in Madison and loves jazz. He writes a semi-regular feature column, Wayne’s Music World, for a blog called “Madison Jazz.” Last week, Wayne attended a concert at Mills Hall that featured the inaugural group of young musicians comprising the UW High School Honors Jazz Band as well as the UW Madison Jazz Orchestra, both conducted by UW jazz professor (new just this past year), Johannes Wallmann. Wayne loved it, and wrote this post. Reprinted with permission.
“The UW Honors Jazz Band is the best jazz idea in Madison in 2013. But it isn’t just an idea. These kids can flat-out play. As a veteran “listener” I’ve listened to a lot of good musical ideas. They don’t always work. The UW Honors Jazz Band from the fertile musical mind of Professor Johannes Wallmann proved at its inaugural concert that it is a really great working idea.
“The Honors Band was the early May opening act for the UW Jazz Orchestra. I’ll say more about that band’s fine performance next week.
“The impressive set list for the Honors Jazz Band included Matt Dennis’ classic Angel Eyes and Thad Jones’ The Farewell plus A Single Sky by Dave Douglas and Samba de Los Gatos from Mike Steinel, a prominent jazz faculty member at the renowned University of North Texas. With a set like this the auditions for the by-invitation-only band must have had a sign reading, ” ‘No wimps allowed.’
“The band worked together for just three, albeit very long, rehearsals. The players looked very serious, expected from a young group making their initial public appearance. At the same time, the listener felt a sense of swing from the group. These are talented musicians playing more than notes. They seem to have a surprising understanding of the music they are playing.
“I was impressed with several soloists including the budding improvisational skills of trumpeter Henry Smith of Madison West and the exactly right tone of Middleton’s Michael Hoot on Angel Eyes. Angel Eyes is a song I know really well. I can’t be fooled. The Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, Sinatra in a “saloon song” segment, Ella when she slowed things down. Great artists have done great things with Angel Eyes. Michael Hoot and the Honors Band got it right.
“The band’s initial appearance featured fourteen musicians from six area high schools, Madison East, West & Memorial, Middleton, McFarland and Verona. Four UW Jazz Orchestra “ringers” augmented the sound. Assistant director Brad Carman from West led the opening number. Noticeable by their absence were any players from La Follette, Edgewood and McFarland high schools. Sun Prairie High School has the leading local jazz reputation and was not represented but that band has been preparing for the Essentially Ellington competition at New York City’s Lincoln Center.
“The UW Honors Jazz Band is important on a number of levels. It tells very talented high school musicians that America’s great original art form is important. It encourages them to study the music, play the music and – of course – think about a future with jazz. The Honors Band introduces the musicians to peers and to music that may be old to some of us oldies but is probably new to many of them. It demonstrates to the musicians, friends and families that jazz is complex music to be played by skilled musicians.
“The Honors Band reminds those of us who have been listening to jazz for decades that our music can again begin to grow. It can play a vital role in American culture. If you have friends in Europe and Japan you know that jazz is a more important part of the music scene in those areas than it is in the country of its birth. I’m grateful that Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries play such vital role in the promotion of jazz and – let’s be honest – the earning power of jazz musicians. For listeners to be able to keep listening we need musicians to earn an income.
“The emergence of programs such as the UW Honors Jazz Band suggests our music future in the Upper Midwest may be getting brighter. It really is the best jazz idea in Madison in 2013.”