Jazz Ensemble jams on new recording

By Amy Cooper

Interested music fans can get a taste of the NIU Jazz Ensemble on their newest compact disc entitled “I’m Getting Cement All Over You.”

According to Music Professor Ron Modell, the ensemble’s 12th album “has a tremendous variety of big-band music,” including everything from the traditional Count Basie big-band sound to the more experimental sound of jazz great Thelonius Monk.

The ensemble includes the entire 19-player band on the album and seven out of the album’s 10 selections are original student compositions or arrangements. Modell points out that students use these albums as resumes for prospective future jobs.

The other three arrangements are from professional writers in New York and Los Angeles.

The ensemble, which has a free concert each semester in the Duke Ellington Ballroom, also participates in many other concerts and events, giving the students excellent hands-on training, Modell said.

The ensemble performs about 34 other concerts in places such as area high schools. Modell says the band does not go into the high school and just play, but stays there all day and works with the kids in teaching them about music. The band also plays each year at a men’s and women’s prison.

Each year an average of seven major artists appear with the jazz ensemble. Past years have included musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Bellson and Maynard Ferguson.

Modell said all this firsthand experience is what makes the band excel. “When people think of NIU, the first thing that comes to mind is the Jazz Ensemble that has been present for 25 years. Three out of the last four NIU presidents said the Jazz Ensemble is the greatest public relations (resource) for the university,” said Modell.

The ensemble releases an album biannually because it gives new people a better chance to be on the recording, Modell said.

Selections for the album are considered throughout the year, with the final decision being made by Modell who chooses half, and the band, which chooses the other half.

The money received from the album goes into a trust account in the NIU Foundation. “It stays there and replenishes itself for the next recording,” Modell says.

The album, which was recorded in May, features such student works as trumpeter Mark Hoffman’s arrangement of Joe Henerson’s “Isotope” and Rob Deemer’s “Bloo Munk,” which was named best original composition in Down Beat magazine’s 16th annual student music awards.

“Cement” was recorded in the NIU Music Building and was produced by Modell and NIU Coordinator of Jazz Studies Antonio Garcia, who left NIU in the middle of August to work as associate professor in the jazz and integrated arts curriculum at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The CD can be bought exclusively at the NIU Student Center Bookstore in the Holmes Student Center for $13.50 or on tape for $8.50.

In addition, albums can be ordered by calling (815)-753-9892 during business hours.