Mardra Thomnas

Special guest Mardra Thomas sings Saturday with the NIU Jazz Orchestra.

At the fourth annual Jazz at the Egyptian show four local jazz groups rocked the stage, allowing composers like Duke Ellington to live on.

Jazz in Progress, the Sycamore High School Jazz Ensemble, the DeKalb High School Jazz Ensemble and the NIU Jazz Orchestra performed. Although a 4-mile radius separates the four groups, they all united to deliver upbeat jazz music to DeKalb.

For NIU’s performance, baritone saxophone player Landon Lemoine doubled as a musician and the director because the group’s coordinator, Reggie Thomas, was in South Africa. Lemoine shifted smoothly between giving his bandmates proper direction and playing his instrument throughout the performance.

The NIU Jazz Orchestra’s performance featured several solos. During the solos, bandmates cheered one another one; the crowd also joined in and agreed with Lemoine when he said the rhythm section was doing an outstanding job.

Lemoine also asked the audience to say hello in a video to send Reggie Thomas, maintaining a personal bond with the audience.

NIU Trumpet player Chris Montiero brought a lot to performance, and her performance with Jazz in Progress was even better.

She played the trumpet and later sang “At Last” by Etta James with as much soul as James. Montiero breathed life into the audience by bringing the essence of the 1960 jazz classic to the audience.

Jazz in Progress director David Lehman was a lively presence on stage. He moved his body to the rhythm of the music throughout the performance, vigorously conducting the musicians. Although he didn’t play an instrument, he managed to keep the crowd and musicians enthusiastic with his mere appreciation for jazz.

Although her husband Reggie Thomas could not attend, NIU invited special guest Mardra Thomas to perform “Come Sunday” by Mahlia Jackson and Duke Ellington. Mardra walked out majestically in a mesh black dress that glittered in the stage lights and reached the floor beneath her eye-catching red heels. She mirrored Mahlia Jackson’s voice, taking listeners back to 1940. 

For Jazz in Progress’ final performance, the song “The Dirty Boogie” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, musicians and Lehman pointed to the audience to yell “the dirty boogie” throughout. The band was the only group to involve the crowd.

The Sycamore High School Jazz Ensemble had a much larger group of musicians than NIU. The director of the jazz ensemble explained to the audience this was mere extracurricular for the group. Members did not gain credit or a grade and voluntarily chose to learn about the history of the songs they performed.

One of the songs the group performed, “Fable of Faubus” by Mingus Big Band, is based off the story of Governor of Arkasas Orval Faubus, who refused to let black people into white schools when Little Rock Nine occured in 1957. Mingus disagreed with the governor. The lyrics are definitely something worth reading, band director Scott Martens said.

The DeKalb High School Jazz Ensemble maintained an energetic feeling, although the group was smaller. When the musicians began to play “I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good,” by Duke Ellington, director Steve Lundin turned to the audience with his hand on his heart and adoration in his eyes, as if captivated by the audience.

To end the night, select members from each group gathered on stage to perform “Limbo Jazz” by Duke Ellington. Although the members came from diverse backgrounds and different walks of life, music remained a universal language. The performers were in different areas of education in their jazz career, but their execution of the song was seamless, and the four mile radius between the groups diminished for one night.

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