Jazz showcase at Doudna Thursday


Jessica Nantes

Austin Spillman, a senior music education major, plays the alto saxophone during a duet at the Jazz Concert Thursday night.

Ryan Meyer, Multimedia Reporter

The Eastern Jazz Lab Band, Jazz Combos and Jazz Ensembles took to the Doudna Theatre stage on Thursday night for their first concert since before the pandemic.

The groups played a variety of jazz standards for an audience of near-full capacity.

Sam Fagaly, the director of jazz studies and a saxophone professor, told the crowd the story of the last time the groups tried to perform for fully live indoor audiences before the COVID-19 lockdown began.

“We were on our way, the jazz ensemble, in March of 2020, was headed out on a tour bus to visit a few schools in the Belleville area, the St. Louis area…That was March 12 that we left on, and by the time we got to Belleville we got a call that said turn around and come back,” Fagaly said.

They wouldn’t meet again until the fall, in a limited capacity and performing to livestreams and outdoor audiences.

“So we missed out on that, and Friday the 13th was the last day we met together at school for that semester, so we’re thrilled to be back full force here,” Fagaly said.

Paul Johnston, a professor of jazz studies and jazz piano, said he was happy to be a part of a performance for a live audience.

“It was really wonderful to be able to share some music with a live audience again,” Johnston said. “They help bring a certain energy that we can’t duplicate in a rehearsal or a livestream.”

Also bringing that energy were the groups’ soloists: Kyle Huddleston on baritone saxophone, Addie Gladu on piano and August Frisby on tenor saxophone.

While Johnston appreciated the novelty of the alternatives the department tried in the midst of the pandemic, he acknowledged that nothing can match what a live crowd provides.

“Last year we did live streams, and we tried to find a couple of creative ways to perform. We did one outdoor concert, and then in the spring the lab band went on a tour of parks here in town,” Johnston said. “So we did an afternoon, a series of concerts in different parks, so we did our best…It was very nice though to have something to shoot for and kind of document… it’s not a substitute for a live audience.”

Some of the most impassioned and impressive performances were those of Johnston’s quintet, consisting of the aforementioned soloists and Jacob Pope on bass and Andrew Powell on drums.

The pent-up excitement to perform showed in the musicians’ well-honed playing and chemistry through songs like “For Lena and Lennie” by Quincy Jones, which Johnston holds near to his heart.

“I told the band, I grew up in Pittsburgh, and this piece was on the radio show every night, they would play it kind of going into the news at the top of the hour, and so this is kind of a special piece of my childhood,” he told the crowd.

The next jazz event is a Jazz Combo performance on Thursday, Oct. 21.

One of the purposes of Eastern’s jazz studies program listed on the event’s program is “to promote jazz as a significant, indigenous American art form.” Thursday night’s performers did just that.

Ryan Meyer can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].