For the better part of a year, the halls of the Bicknell Center have been devoid of live jazz music, at least live jazz with an audience that is.
On Monday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m, the PSU Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of professor of trombone Robert Kehle, hosted their first live in-person concert since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concert had a limited audience inside the Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts and was livestreamed. The concert featured music by German-born American composer Kurt Weill, Marshall Gilkew, noted jazz-classical fusion composer George Gershwin, Patrick Williams, recently deceased jazz greats such as Sammy Nestico and Chick Corea, and Vernon Duke.
“As you might have guessed, we’re welcoming a very limited audience to this concert – just some special guests,” Kehle said. “It’s nice to be able to announce and know that there are people out there and for that audience to applaud after solos, so we want to welcome all of you as well as all of our virtual guests…”
The concert opened with “Mack the Knife” originally written by Kurt Weill and this arrangement was done by Sammy Nestico. It featured sophomores Alex Stinson on trumpet, Daniel Sutterfield on guitar, and Jonathan Rohr on bass trombone for solos. The concert continued with a tune called “Lost Words” arranged by Marshall Gilkew.
“The title almost seems fitting given our newfound mask-wearing,” Kehle said.
The piece featured soloists junior Garrett Manasco on trombone, junior Tyler Fries on trumpet, and senior Edith Sigler on piano. After “Lost Words,” the band played George Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” and Pat Metheny’s “First Circle.”
The concert also featured a guest soloist, professor of music emeritus Russell Jones on alto saxophone on the tune, “One More Dream” by Patrick Williams.
“Jones served as an educator in the department of music serving as chair,” Kehle said. “He’s recently retired but it felt fitting to bring Rusty out to perform ‘One More Dream.”
Jones performed with the composer while both of them were at Duke University, Williams as an instructor and Jones as a student. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke and his Master of Music Education and doctoral degree from Indiana University. Before completing his graduate work, he taught band, chorus, and general music in the North Carolina public school system. During his time at PSU, he taught instrumental music education, bassoon, and graduate courses.
Jones maintains an active performance career on all instruments that he plays including bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, and English horn. He performs in a variety of musical settings including chamber music, jazz, musical theater, large ensemble, and as a soloist. He currently plays lead alto sax in the Crossroads Jazz Orchestra.
“It’s always fun to have Rusty play on a tune,” Kehle said. “He plays so beautifully. It’s just so nice to have him back up on the stage.”
Kehle also expressed his gratitude to both the Bicknell staff and the students for their continued cooperation to make a concert during a global pandemic possible.