|Ace field trip
Rutgers student musicians hold thir own with alumni and faculty
BY ZAN STEWART
NEW YORK -- It seemed fitting that on the first night of Rutgers in New York -- a four-Mondays-in-April series at the Blue Note featuring Rutgers University faculty, alumni and students -- the latter gave the others a couple of lessons.
Where the all-star alums and faculty often played loud and hard, the elite students played with more dynamics and texture. Where the elder musicians played some overly long renditions, the youths were more to the point, with select soloists on each number.
Of course, the faculty and alumni played with more poise, assurance and depth. Well they should have, given that they've individually performed with Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Brother Jack McDuff, Joe Lovano, Jimmy McGriff and many other top-flight jazz artists. Trombonist Conrad Herwig and pianist Stanley Cowell -- the faculty at Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts teamed with trumpeter Mike Mossman, tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon, baritone saxophonist Dave Schumacher, bassist Joe Bussey and drummer Yoron Israel the alumni.
But the students showed they deserved to play on the same stage as the pros. Their performances also revealed the depth of the Rutgers jazz program, and why musicians come from all parts of the United States, Canada and beyond to study in New Brunswick.
Alto saxophonist Pete DiCarlo, his bass-playing brother Tom (both Bedminster natives), trumpeter Ted Chubb, guitarist Mike Baggetta, pianist George Caldwell and drummer Chris Brown comprised the student band. Hitting the bandstand first, the musicians offered a set of originals that varied in mood and setting. Caldwell's "Double Take" was a vigorous, finger-snapping minor blues that could have come from the Jazz Messengers' book. The composer scored with a fluid approach and some zesty chords, and Baggetta, his tone warm and open, swung handily with a wealth of solid ideas.
Bassist DiCarlo's medium-paced "Zodiac" shifted stances. Baggetta opened with more easy-on-the-ear thoughts over a vamp. Then, in a section that alternated between an open feeling and funk, Chubb, with a soft-to-gritty sound, and altoist DiCarlo -- his tone a bit dry at points, sweet at others -- offered both swinging and abstract-leaning ideas. Then came the theme. The trumpeter's winning ballad, "Absence," had a somber section, and another more animated, Brown accompanying both with deft brush work. Here, bassist DiCarlo was a story-telling soloist.
The faculty-alumni group had some very fine moments. On a tender version of Miles Davis-Bill Evans' "Blue in Green," Weldon, backed by Israel's brush scrapes, played with a breathy, compelling tone, each of his remarks a song in itself. Cowell revealed his delicate touch and warm feel for melody. Weldon's version of "Street of Dreams" was orchestrated with trumpet carrying the theme, the others coloring it. Cowell was again superb, as was Schumacher, with his appealingly croaky sound. Herwig, who boasts a gorgeous tone, made his bluesy ideas count.
The band's "Code Blue" was one number hit too hard for too long; "It Ain't Necessarily So" another.
Rutgers in New York continues Monday with tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen and trumpeter Terrell Stafford among the faculty-alumni, bassist Kenny Davis among the students. The April 18 show features Cowell in the faculty-alum band, alto saxophonist Brad Leali in the student ensemble. On April 25, an all-faculty band shares the stage with the Rutgers Jazz Ensemble featuring Leali, Davis, Caldwell and others.