NIU Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble ‘travel’ the world through music


Madelaine Vikse

NIU Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble hosted their first concert of the semester on Oct. 6 in the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall. (Madelaine Vikse | Northern Star)

The NIU Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra held their first concert of the fall semester on Thursday. 

Led by professor Rodrigo Villanueva Conroy and graduate teaching assistant Austyn Menk, the Jazz Ensemble started the concert with “Hay Burner,” a chart by Sammy Nestico.

“I missed the music,” said Tim Schultz, a DeKalb resident. Schultz came to see his son Jared, a sophomore music major, play. “It’s good to be back,” Schultz added. 

After the saxophone soli and trumpet solo in “Hay Burner,” the band moved on to their second song, “Beyond the Limit,” a Bob Mintzer composition. The ensemble’s third song, “A Child is Born,” written by Thaddeus Jones, was slower than the first two songs. The song started with a piano solo which morphed into a flugelhorn solo by trumpet player Olivia Garcia.

“We have been working on these tunes,” said Garcia, a junior music education major. “When we get up there, I think the energy’s gonna be there, and then we’re just going to execute it well.”  

Paisley Stevens, a junior music major, said she attended the concert because she used to play jazz and hopes to join the band next year. “Thad Jones’ charts have so much crazy stuff, so that’s fun to hear,” Stevens said.

The Jazz Ensemble finished their set with “Boplicity,” made famous by Miles Davis and written by Cleo Henry and Gil Evans. 

“Ain’t it feel good to swing!” said Jazz Orchestra director and professor of jazz studies Reginald “Reggie” Thomas after walking on stage.

Menk struck the first chords to “Corner Pocket (Until I Met You)” by Freddie Green and the Jazz Orchestra was underway. 

Going into the next song, Thomas announced a project the jazz department is starting. This year, the bands will be “traveling” through music to places that helped form jazz, according to Thomas. 

Thomas figuratively took the band to New Orleans and introduced them to Louis Armstrong through a song written by Armstrong’s second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque.”

The song was centered around a trombone solo from Kirby Fellis, a second-year graduate teaching assistant, which felt straight out of a New Orleans second line. Its simplistic melodic progression and intense dancing spirit filled the room.

In a conversation after the show, Fellis and Menk talked about their favorite parts of the show. 

“It is inspiring to play with people like this,” Fellis said about his performance.

Menk responded, saying, “That’s what it’s all about.” 

The smooth alto saxophone from second-year music performance graduate student Evon Sams shone in the group’s slowed-down version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The ‘A’ Train.” 

The concert closed with another Thomas-led musical vacation, this time to Trinidad and Tobago with the song “Calypsoscope” composed by Matt Harris. “Calypsoscope” featured Sams, Menk and guitarist Jackson Wheeler, a junior music major. 

For those who attended the concert for loved ones, the music played a part in the decision. Amanda Perez, a junior music major, came to watch her boyfriend perform. 

“I look forward to jazz,” Perez said. “It’s good to hear something different from day to day music.”

The NIU Jazz Ensemble will have their next concert on Nov. 14 and the Jazz Orchestra will have theirs on Nov. 17.

To students thinking about coming to these shows, Zaire Burks, a sophomore music major, said the show was “a concert you needed to go to. If you love good music, know it’s on your campus.”