Got that swing
An evening of toe-tapping jazz at Chico State
Swing music’s relatively straightforward rhythms and emphasis on the off-beat not only leads to compulsive foot-tapping, but also appeals to listeners who don’t dig more experimental forms of jazz—listeners like me. So, I was pretty sure I’d be into Swing Swing Swing, the fall concert for Chico State’s flagship student jazz ensemble, Jazz X-Press, in Harlen Adams Theatre on Saturday (Oct. 21). And I was right. The grooves kept my foot moving all night.
Each fall, a week of jazz instruction with visiting artists in local schools culminates in this student/faculty showcase. First up was the Pleasant Valley High School Jazz Ensemble. Led by affable director Ryan Heimlich, the group played a couple of up-tempo tunes before slowing down for “The Way We Were,” the schmaltzy 1973 Bergman/Hamlisch hit sung by Barbra Streisand. Performed instrumentally, the ensemble carried the vocal melody with multiple instruments, including a prominent trombone solo. It was beautiful. In fact, despite many of the players appearing visibly nervous, the high-schoolers sounded really clean, and I was more than a little impressed.
After a brief intermission, Jazz X-Press took the stage and jumped right into a song, during which instructor/director/trumpeter Rocky Winslow appeared on stage to applause. He introduced his daughter, Roxanne, who was playing trumpet, along with the first-chair musicians, and cracked some jokes I didn’t really understand (his microphone was muffled). However, about a third of the audience appeared to know Winslow personally and laughed along.
Back to the music: Drummer Anthony Paneno, who sported an endearingly crooked bowtie, played furiously, killing it especially on “Flight of the Foo Birds,” penned by Neal Hefti for the Count Basie Orchestra that featured a groovy walking bass line, muted horns and a banging solo by lead alto saxophonist Chris Thorn.
The concert also showcased two guest players and Chico State alumni—saxophonist Mike Newman and drummer Ted Carrasco, both former pupils and longtime friends of Winslow. About halfway through the Jazz X-Press set, Newman joined the ensemble with his saxophone, and he was the epitome of smooth; his several solo spots were fluid and expressive. He also took a moment to give props to the PV players, with whom he’d rehearsed earlier.
“I was impressed,” he told the audience. “They played through the first chart and then asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘It sounds great—let’s play the next song.’”
Carrasco then joined the ensemble for “Tango for Lord Wemyss,” written by Winslow. He was perfectly on-point and played with real charisma. I was, however, a little disappointed because he took the place of my favorite player, Paneno, which leads to my only criticism of the night: The focus was mostly on the guest players and Winslow—who jumped in on trumpet and traded improvised licks with Newman—but I wanted to hear more from the students.
Thankfully, Paneno had one more big moment toward the end of the concert. During a particularly rousing number, Winslow gestured for the entire ensemble to stand up and Paneno made a mad dash across the front of the stage, grinning ear-to-ear and banging big cymbals together like a monkey. It was totally wacky and unexpected, but also the most memorable moment of the evening.
The concert concluded with the snappy, fast-paced “Iliopsoas,” another tune written by Winslow. Then, finally, my foot got to rest.