Walking the walk
Faculty Ensemble brews up some jazz at the Big Room
Forget that old saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Last Friday the Chico State Faculty Jazz Ensemble, led by trumpeter Rocky Winslow—the director of Jazz Studies—easily disproved it.
Winslow was joined by three other faculty members—Grant Levin, piano; Greg D’Augelli, bass; and Dan Kinkle, drums; as well as tenor saxman (and ringer) Mike Newman, a Chico State Jazz Express (i.e. big band) alumnus. The quartet ended up delivering an eight-tune, 80-minute jewel in the crown of the two-day conference of the California Association for Music Education, which brought together about 120 music teachers from all over northern California.
Performing for their peers and pupils, the combo led off with a relaxed “Blues for Gwen,” a McCoy Tyner composition that featured—as did all but one of the selections—intricate interplay between Winslow and Newman. Levin got an audible rise out of a couple of people when he essayed some two-handed piano during his solo.
The concert lived up to its billing as “a musical treat that features original compositions” on the next tune, a pretty “She’s Just Dreaming,” which Winslow wrote for his daughter. Alternating between smooth Latin rhythms and straight 4/4 time, which created a marvelous sense of tension and release, the group took an innovative step on the piece by having bassist D’Augelli take the first solo.
Trumpeter Woody Shaw’s “Organ Grinder,” a peppy theme with contrapuntal lines, put Kinkle in the spotlight. The drummer—certainly no stranger to Chico jazz fans for the last 20 years or so—aced it all night. Winslow next introduced the players and said of Kinkle: “He’s one of the rocks of Gibraltar.” Indeed!
Levin’s “Catatonia” was anything but. A medium-tempo outing with alternating rhythms (what the composer called “its most notable feature") it had a pretty theme the horns played in unison before soloing. Winslow was especially lyrical while Newman went a little outside before handing things over to Levin.
Winslow prefaced the next tune with, “And now for something completely different ….” “Body and Soul,” first immortalized nearly 70 years ago by tenor titan Coleman Hawkins, was a duet featuring D’Augelli on tenor sax (his main instrument) and Levin doing some serious deconstruction and reconstruction of the classic with Levin’s solo (lazy right hand vs. left-hand stride) a kind of Erroll Garner meets Willie “The Lion” Smith encounter. Next up was Chick Corea’s “Litha,” a real flag-waver with some serious tempo alternations. Winslow was especially effective at the higher RPMs and Newman paid brief homage to John Coltrane before going off on his own. Levin again proved himself no slouch at any tempo.
Winslow’s “Blues Encounters of the Jazz Kind,” with its very relaxed theme (more killer piano, too) segued into an equally quiet outro that, in turn, led to the encore—Levin’s “Jaffa Gate,” the only real foot-patting piece on offer all night.
Throughout the two-day conference, music teachers from all over the North State participated in sessions on recording, band and choir reading, and a presentation on criteria judges use in band competitions. Although half of them had to leave before Friday night’s events to conduct their bands at their schools’ football games, the audience was swelled by dozens of college students and the general public.
The show proved that not all teachers sequester themselves in their ivory towers; some get out and play. D’Augelli—another Chico jazz veteran I first encountered about 30 years ago—can be found at Johnnie’s Restaurant (220 W. Fourth Ave., Chico) in company with guitarist Dave Elke on the third and fourth Thursdays of the month. Levin is there solo on Fridays and with trumpeter Deric Binyon’s combo on Saturdays, while Winslow and Newman often pair up on Mondays at Lost On Main (319 Main St., Chico).