My last class in American Music was Friday. Since my previous blog on music, we’ve covered Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern. Many of these song writers started in Tin Pan Alley where they composed songs as their regular job.
Next we listened to South American music, especially the Samba, the National music of Brazil. The two hemispheres have similar musical traditions. Both are greatly influenced by the heavy African populations due to the slave trade. However, North America was basically dominated by Protestant elements from Northern Europe while Catholicism from Portugal influenced Brazil. Also, North America had an anti-drumming law that didn’t allow slaves to use drums in their music. Brazil had no such laws.
For extra credit we could write about concerts we attended, including the final concerts last week at Glendale Community College. I attended the Jazz Concert where a world renowned saxophone artist, Eric Marienthal, was a guest performer. Crowds were expected, so I arrived early.
Two bands were scheduled: the GCC Big Band, made up of GCC students and the GCC Night Band made up of men of all ages who loved to play jazz. Both were directed by a very pleased Dave Schmidt, head of the jazz department.
About twenty students, mostly men, took their seats on stage. The instruments included electric bass guitars, drums, piano, saxophones, trumpets and trombones. The guest saxophonist, Eric Marienthal, came on during the third set to play Body and Soul. I recognized the melody within the context of a great deal of improvisation by Eric. He continued to play during the fourth and fifth sets. The fifth set, Bone Crusher, had several soloists, including an excellent drum presentation. Overall, I found the students entertaining and would come back for more.
As bandleader, Dave directed the group, recognized each of the soloists and encouraged the audience to show their appreciation. We gave them all well-deserved applause.
During the short intermission, the students left, and the stage filled with musicians who had mostly white hair or lack thereof and included a fellow with a Mohawk playing one of the two electric guitars (not bass). They all looked as though they couldn’t wait to start performing.
Before each song, Dave or the drummer established the beat. During the first set, the drummer, who is a professional in one of the local orchestras, gave a Buddy Rich style drumming (excellent). Eric joined the group for the third set and remained on stage through the rest of the presentations. Whenever he performed solos or improvisations, the entire group stopped playing although the guitarists and drummer often added a few notes of their own to highlight his music. It was quite apparent everyone was having a great time and enjoying the opportunity to work together. This was particularly true when another saxophonist joined Eric in improvisation. The two stood face-to-face dueling it out for several minutes with a little addition from the trombonist.
For one song, Eric turned to the audience, played a few bars and asked us to respond in like notes. We did and he gave a few more bars. For the next few minutes we did this back and forth before Eric made it too complicated. Then he turned to the band and the two went back and forth with the band attempting to imitate his riffs…until Eric did an improv that was way too difficult to follow.
Dave rarely gave the band directions, since the men (mostly professionals) knew what they were doing. However, he was tireless in pointing them out, commending them for their solos and getting the audience to recognize their performances. At the end, when the band stood for their final bow, the audience also stood to show their complete appreciation for their wonderful efforts. It was a delightful, fun time for all.