Pitt ensemble jazzes up the music program

By Laura Nizlek

Pitt Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert

April 15, 2010, 8 p.m.

William Pitt Union Assembly… Pitt Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert

April 15, 2010, 8 p.m.

William Pitt Union Assembly Room

Students $5, General Admission $10.

Call (412) 624-4187 for more information.

From trips to Jamaica, to local outreach programs, to a swinging spring concert topped with performances around the globe, Pitt’s world-renowned Jazz Ensemble keeps playing away to audience raves.

But the members of the Jazz Ensemble aren’t world-renowned trumpeters and famous saxophone players — not yet anyway.

They’re part of a unique two-hour credit class that meets twice a week on campus and is composed of both music and non-music majors who simply have a passion for jazz. Students aren’t even required to take the Jazz Ensemble as a class to participate, although they must audition during the fall term to join the group.

Dr. Nathan Davis, a professor of music and the director of Jazz Studies at Pitt, founded the Ensemble in 1969. The jazz group currently consists of approximately 21 members, according to Professor Leon Dorsey, who added that most of the students have been playing since the fourth or fifth grade.

Professor Dorsey is in his second year as coordinator of the Jazz Ensemble. He is a bassist from Pittsburgh but now lives in New York City, where he still continues to perform.

One of the highlights of the program is an annual two-week trip to Negril, Jamaica, where the group has visited for the past 20 years. President Shana Fowler, a senior trumpet player, became involved specifically because of the Jamaica trip.

Her primary role as president is to organize the trip, a daunting, but ultimately satisfying task. While in Jamaica, the talented musicians perform every day for school children and community festivals.

Senior Anthony Joseph, an electric and double bass player, participated in the trip last year.

“It’s really rewarding,” he says. “You get to see the countryside and play for the kids.”

Sophomore saxophone player Alex Harshberger also attended the trip last year.

“A lot of the (Jamaican) students haven’t seen a jazz band. After playing for the students, we show them [our] own instruments to get students to interact,” Harshberger said.

According to its website, the group has previously played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, as well as in Brazil, Trinidad and the southern United States.

The Jazz Ensemble’s annual spring concert will be held on April 15 at 8 p.m. in the William Pitt Union. The concert was a huge success last year. Almost 500 people came to enjoy the creatively eclectic jazz selections.

Again this year, an internationally renowned guest artist will perform solo, as well as with the group. This year’s musician has not yet been announced, but previous artists have included Curtis Fuller, James Moody, Larry Coryell and Jimmy Owens.

Songs being played in this year’s concert include two Oliver Nelson arrangements, Count Basie songs and “Down by the Riverside.”

Alexandra Arndt will be singing in the upcoming show. Although she is a senior, this is her first semester with the Ensemble. As a biology major, she was previously unable to dedicate the time required for rehearsals.

For the spring concert, she has helped with the song selections, one of which will include the ballad, “When I Fall in Love.”. Previously, she was a singer with her dad’s jazz ensemble and her church choir at home, as well as a singer for a rock band back in high school.

The show generally lasts for an hour and a half. The money earned helps to fund the annual trip to Jamaica as well as to support the cost of running the Jazz Ensemble. The cost for the evening of jazz music comes to just $5 for students and $10 for general admission. For ticket information call 412-624-4187.