Luther College jazz band performs concert


Luther College jazz band performed virtual concert on Saturday, March 6th, in the Center for Faith and Life. Photo courtesy of McKinley Leinweber (’24).

On Saturday, March 6th, the Luther College Jazz Band presented a virtual concert in the Center for Faith and Life. Directed by Jon Ailabouni (‘10), the 19-person jazz ensemble performed five pieces, which featured 15 solo performances. 

To begin the concert, Ailabouni led the ensemble in a rendition of “Move” by Denzil Best, an upbeat, buoyant rhythmic piece featuring solos by Elizabeth Hand (‘21), Nolan Mancl (‘22), and Owen Schupbach (‘21). This first piece was Ailabouni’s personal favorite.

“It features each of the sections in the band,” Ailabouni said. “But especially the trombones, who did an excellent job. It’s classic Duke Ellington writing, in terms of harmony and orchestration, but the melodies are more reminiscent of the Kansas City style typical of Count Basie.”

Soloists had the opportunity to improvise their own melodies while playing along with others during the performance. In preparing for the concert, pianist Clare Dvoracek (‘24) noticed how the skills gained in learning improvisation benefit the ensemble as a whole.

“Learning how to improvise solos with the band has taught me a lot about communication,” Dvoracek said. “As in verbal communication, listening is key.”

Following “Move” was “Feet Bone” by Duke Ellington. Dvoracek began the piece with piano melodies typical of Ellington’s compositions. Next came a slower piece, “Count Me In” by Bill Byers, whose slower lilting melodies were reminiscent of closing time music found in Harlem clubs, ushering patrons home in the early hours of the morning. “Count Me In” featured a trumpet solo by Schupbach and happened to be Dvoracek’s favorite selection.

“My personal favorite piece is the arrangement of ‘Count Me In’ by Count Basie,” Dvoracek said. “The laid-back style and all the little nuances in the score make it super fun to listen to and perform.”

The next piece on the program, “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock, featured seven solo performances and was a great piece for performers to improve their improvisation skills, according to percussionist Hand. 

“This concert’s funk chart, titled ‘Chameleon’, was an open invitation to anyone who wanted to take a crack at a solo,” Hand said. “This more democratic approach to soloing in a big band setting is definitely something I admire because it provides the opportunity of improvisation, an integral part of jazz music, to everyone.” 

The final piece of the concert, “Momcat Mambo” by Michael Phillip Mossman, left the audience with an upbeat, toe-tapping selection to depart. Proud of the work the ensemble has done, Ailabouni commented on how well the jazz band had persevered through the pandemic and altered rehearsals, remaining a community of musicians and passionate students.

 “The room for discussion amongst the musicians has created a feeling in the band of deeper community, trust and an awareness of how our lives are inextricably linked to our music-making,” Ailabouni said. “Wayne Shorter, the great American saxophonist and composer, said ‘your humanity is your instrument’. We’ve definitely been practicing that in jazz band this semester.”