REVIEW: SMTD Jazz Ensembles Concert

The University of Michigan SMTD jazz bands came together last Thursday night to present a double-bill performance containing early jazz music, student arrangements and classic big band repertoire. The two ensembles are led by Chris Smith (Early Jazz Ens.) and Dennis Wilson (Jazz Lab Ens.). This musically diverse concert contained a wide spectrum of jazz music.

The first hour and a half of this concert showcased 13 tunes, most of which were transcribed and arranged by Chris Smith, the interim band leader. None of these tunes were written any later than 1929, which intrinsically implies a specific style. The band was sensitive to the ensemble sound and rendered nuanced improvisational solos that supported the style. Two band-members from the horn line (Callum Roberts and Houston Patton) lifted their voices in song during the tunes “Mr. Jelly Roll”, and “Six or Seven Times”. The audience adored this unexpected performance.

The Lab Band brought us back for the second half of the concert. The band’s repertoire was developed 10-20+ years later than the early jazz set, bringing a much different sound into the mix. They included two student arrangements: “This Little Light of Mine” arr. by Gavin Ard and “Dinah” arr. by Liam Charron. Both arrangements were equally impressive and enchanting—it’s inspiring to see such polished original student work within SMTD ensembles. 

The Lab Band later featured singer Stephanie Reuning-Scherer on the tune “The Song is You”. Ms. Reuning-Scherer wonderfully adhered to the jazz style and was a satisfying performer to watch. It is wonderful to hear vocalists with the jazz bands continuing the tradition of vocal jazz in community settings. 

The final song of the concert was a world-premiere piece written by director Dennis Wilson, entitled “Rhythms From The Flint Hills”. Additional players joined in, including: tablas, bassoon, violin, flute and electric bass. This was a long and harmonically complex work and offered a unique sound texture that contrasted the music prior in the concert.

The entirety of the performance allowed the audience to indulge in a historical journey through jazz history, including compositions spanning over 100 years of music.

There are numerous events around campus hosting jazz music. The Blue Bop Jazz Orchestra’s annual holiday concert is on Friday, December 8th at 6pm in the Michigan League Ballroom. The next concert for the SMTD Jazz Ensemble will be back at Rackham on February 20th at 8p.  



Image thanks to @UMICHSMTD on Instagram.

REVIEW: All About the Trio

Kerrytown Concert House hosts a variety of events including bluegrass, klezmer, string or wind quintets and various jazz groups. “All About The Trio” is a concert residency hosted by some of the jazz greats from the midwest: pianist Ellen Rowe, dummer Sean Dobbins and bassist Paul Keller. These three are highly respected players in the Detroit jazz scene and beyond. It was a treat to see their trio perform last Sunday. The concert featured the music and legacy of Duke Ellington and proved equally enjoyable and educational. 

The concert featured 7 unique Ellington tunes including: Take the A Train, In A Mellotone, In A Sentimental Mood, and Rockin’ in Rhythm to name a few. I enjoyed the set and the choice of tunes. A few I knew and a few I didn’t. I had never been inside this venue before, and I was surprised by the small space. The audience was essentially divided up into two groups based on where you were seated in the room. This offered an intimate atmosphere, good for a lively and conversational concert like this one.  The sound was very hot in the room—I heard everyone very well.  

Ethan Moleski from University of Michigan’s School of Music (BFA Jazz 24’) joined the trio on tenor sax during the middle of the set. Ethan served as a guest artist, playing In A Sentimental Mood in the style of Coltrane and Duke’s 1963 album. Ethan has a lovely sound and is very sensitive to the style of the recording he was working from. A senior in college, Ethan is ahead of his time in improvisational technique, sound, style and passion. 

As a thoughtful pianist and composer herself, Ms. Rowe interjected with interesting information about Duke Ellington and his specific compositional choices throughout the concert. She informed the audience to why Duke made the choices he did compositionally, with extra insight into his improvisational tendencies. I appreciated Rowe’s thoughtful piano playing behind all this information—each aspect she explained was apparent in her playing. She played sensitively to the style of Duke, and each transcription of his improvisational solos was spot on. I enjoyed having many of these tunes backed up with facts beforehand—it offered an informed aspect to the concert experience. I am reminded of these concepts when listening to Duke myself!

There are a plethora of diverse events to see at Kerrytown Concert House. Ellen Rowe’s trio will be back—playing a concert full of holiday fun December 17th at 2pm. Student tickets are available at 




Image thanks to Kerrytown Concert House.

REVIEW: Creative Arts Orchestra

Creative Arts Orchestra is an experimental modern music group at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater and Dance, directed by Marcus Elliot. It’s specific to the jazz department, but there are a range of participating players among the music school’s student body. This is one of the most unique ensembles at the University, emphasizing improvisation and feel over Western structure and harmony of music. They often invite interaction with other performance fields such as dance, theatre, and music technology.

The ensemble features 9 students, with a few of the players doubling on 2 or 3 instruments. The orchestra includes: double bass, flute, clarinet, tenor sax, baritone sax, alto sax, and trumpet. There were at least 3-4 saxes playing at a time due to the instrumentation, so the sound came off particularly bright. The double bass carried the darker, grounding sound in the music and was necessary texture-wise. The group has a truly unique way of blending with each other, demonstrating the high level of musicianship present. 

As for the performance, the music sounded atonal and arhythmic. There wasn’t a specifically defined structure of what notes to play, but each piece was still quite different. Marcus Elliot, the conductor, chose certain moments to cue everyone in for a tutti line or harmony, but he was not overly controlling of the ensemble. I did not get to see what the player’s scores looked like but I assume they are somewhat free with little actual notation based on how the music sounded. 

I noticed if I tuned out of the moment, this ensemble sounded like noise. It reminded me how humans cling onto structure in every aspect of life, including something as ambiguous as music. We anticipate “A” sections and a bridge that leads us back into a repeated “A” section, along with harmonies that are comfortable to our ears. This ensemble takes hard right turn on that construct, and plays into the emotion of a moment, while creating an atmosphere for the listener with the various timbres of instruments. I respected the hyper-focused nature of the ensemble in regard to this. They prioritized settling into the moment of the music and the group’s sound. 

The set featured compositions by members of the ensemble including: Noah Pujol, MM Clarinet 23’, Houston Patton BFA, Jazz 23’ and Marlena Boedigheimer, MM Jazz 24’. Often their selections started with a theme and transitioned seamlessly into group improvisation. It felt like a portrait of a moment and the instrumentation that was present within the sound. 

Half-way through the concert, they featured Canadian pianist, Kris Davis. She is a Vancouver born jazz-pianist and composer with a variety of discography available. I appreciated how much the sound was expanded once a pianist entered into the space. I enjoyed the complexity added to the music by Davis. There are more options with the instrument which allowed for lower notes to be added into the music.

Theres a certain meditativeness to the music, and a smaller audience reinforced the intimate experience of the concert.  This ensemble is something to be perceived in real time, to properly absorb the spur-of-the-moment cultivation of the atmosphere. Most of all, this was an experience of collective sound along with talented musician’s presently existing alongside one another. If you are interested in experiencing this, the next Creative Arts Orchestra will be March 14th, 8pm in Hankinson Rehearsal Hall in the Moore building on North Campus. They will be playing with SMTD alum Mat Endahl! 




Image by Caitlyn Bogart.

REVIEW: A MoodSwing Reunion

I believe this is the first time I have been to a live jazz performance. It was AMAZING.

The jazz ride the MoodSwing took the audience at the hill auditorium was a one with graceful arches, twists and turns. The night’s performance starred Joshua Redman on Saxophones, Christian McBride on bass, Brian Blade on drums, and Sullivan Fortner on the piano. These four amazingly talented musicians did not let one theme restrict them for the 90-minute show. Each piece had different moods: the vibe of the music went from cheerful, dramatic, beautiful, to playful. I used to think that jazz has a lively, humorous vibe in the background as a default. However, tonight I heard a piece that was so graceful and beautiful that it felt as though the stars were shimmering down and a one that was really serious, dramatic, and heroic. It was a discovery of jazz’s diversity and now I’m eager to dive more into the genre. If you turn the most unpronounceable, subtle emotions to music, that would be jazz. It was amazing how the musicians expressed such different shades of atmosphere with the same instruments.

I also really loved how the leading role switched from Saxophones, drums, and pianos, to the bass. I really appreciated the moment when the bass was leading, because that does not happens a lot in modern pop or rock music. Christian McBride amazed the crowd with some playful but precise shreds(with the bass! yes!). While he was at it, Sullivan at the piano was observing him and chimed in with a few notes at the curves that supported the bass sound beautifully to make the music even fuller. It was so interesting to see how the musicians were interacting and compromising while the tune is going – the risk and impulse coming from the fact that the interaction was happening live definitely made the performance thrilling and attention-grabbing. Seeing the live chemistry between the musicians definitely made the 90-minute running time feel short. If you want to explore music without the lyrics but classic does not draw your attention just yet, try going to a jazz concert. Because the emotion in the performance is more dramatic and clearly spelled out in jazz compared to classic concerts, and also because you can easily notice the different phases of music with the shift of leadership and roles between the instruments, jazz will be an easier starting point to the love for instrumental music.

PREVIEW: A Moodswing Reunion

Do You like Jazz? I do. I liked it even before I watched Disney-Pixar’s lovely appraisal for it.

I like jazz, first of its sound. It has playful, jolly, yet emotional edges and curves in its tunes. Also, the harmony between the drum, saxophone, piano, and guitar just seems to be enough. They compliment each other so well. If I think one step down the musical appreciation, I love jazz because of its freedom. Its impromptu-ness makes the musicians take the risk and discover the sound that is only present on stage. It’s always a magical, thrilling ride to see how things could go in harmony.

If there are any more jazz lovers out there, you are in luck-a interesting, the reunited crew is coming to Hill auditorium, Ann Arbor this Thursday(April 21st, 7:30 pm). It will be starring:

Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone
Brad Mehldau, piano
Christian McBride, bass
Brian Blade, drums

This group that released its album, MoodSwing, back in 1994 is reuniting again after the change of the century. This will be a great goodbye to this semester!

REVIEW: Candlelight Concert

One perk of living on campus that I’ve often taken for granted is its sheer proximity to so many great music events. As a freshman living in the dorms, this proximity was made especially apparent when I was able to simply hop over next door to the Michigan Union last Saturday evening to check out the Candelight Concert—which to me, felt like a nice personal win. 

The concert featured 15 SMTD undergraduate piano students in what was a charming blend between a professional studio recital and a laid-back show-and-tell among friends. Each piece was prefaced with a quick blurb by the performer, introducing themselves with a hand-held mic and highlighting what bits of contextualization they felt were most pertinent to experiencing the music. To add to this casual intimacy, candles piled on top of the grand piano cast a warm glow on the performers’ faces as they played while even more candles lined the rows of chairs. Warm lighting typically helps to shrink the size of a room, but in combination with the extra tall ceilings of the Rogel Ballroom, created a stripped-back bubble of space. There was also a sizeable turnout—the majority of which was notably fellow students (something you don’t often see at classical concerts), which added to the welcoming atmosphere.

The program itself was designed to feel accessible to the general public, showcasing iconic classical pieces while mixing in a few less familiar ones. From a musician’s perspective, playing these widely recognized pieces is definitely a double-edged sword—they are much easier to scrutinize, and so many interpretations already exist that it is a daunting task to bring something new up to the table. However, I was pleasantly delighted by the performances of the night. Lesley Sung’s Moonlight Sonata opening was thoughtful and breathtaking, keeping the right hand triplets solid but not overpowering and leaning into the phrasing of the top melody line. Additionally, Aleks Shameti’s Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 no 2 exuded a graceful effortlessness—his dynamic control allowed for a pillow-soft left hand and a beautiful push and pull throughout the piece. Jacob Wang’s Tchaikovsky Andante Maestoso was complex and majestic, concluding the concert with huge waves of sound. 

Out of the pieces I wasn’t already familiar with, I truly enjoyed Sua Lee’s Schumann-Liszt Widmung. Her playing was bold and emotional with audible breaths between phrases, distinctly echoing the snippet of her personality I got through her introduction to the piece. Moving over to the jazz pieces, I felt that Eric Yu’s The Man I Love fit nicely into the atmosphere with rolling chords that filled the room like a warm bubble. I also loved Robert Yan’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow arrangement, which incorporated wispy, delicate Debussy-esque passages.

Overall, I thought the concert was a lovely experience. I’d like to congratulate all the performers and thank them for sharing their music!