Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra’s Holiday Special

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by M. Abdul-Qawiyy
For New Pittsburgh Courier

On Sunday, Dec. 18, the frigid wintry weather did not deter jazz lovers from attending the 3rd annual Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra holiday show. The sold out performance boasted a diverse audience, in race and age, throughout the theater.

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CREATING THE MUSIC—Sean Jones performs with Pittsburgh Orchestra. (Photos by Gail Manker)

As the house lights dimmed, a quartet waltzed onto the stage, one at the piano, drum, bass and trumpet. They commenced the show with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The audience murmured excitedly as Artistic Director and lead trumpeter of the Orchestra, Sean Jones, opened the show saying, “We want to try to recreate the spirit of what the holiday is all about.” A serene ambience permeated as “Silent Night” lulled the audience, and snowflakes decorated the walls, as if it was indeed Christmas day.

The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, founded by Nathan Davis, is a resident Orchestra at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The musicians not only have a shared purpose of keeping the rich history of jazz music in Pittsburgh alive, but also represent many ethnicities, races, and ages.

As the concert went on, solos were a kind of introduction of most members. In particular, James Moore’s trumpet lead in “Let it Snow” was ardent and as heads nodded and feet tapped, the audience got more involved and an “Alright!” erupted from the crowd.

Mike Tamaro, co-director of the Orchestra and director of Jazz studies at Duquesne University, initiated the Afro Cuban version of “Carol of the Bells.” Although he stopped the song mid performance to have the band start over, “It’s a brand new one,” Mike said and shrugged, the audience laughed. The rhythm skipped with a salsa-like flavor and people were snapping their fingers and saying, “That’s good.” “Yeah!” “Alright now!”

As “Blue Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Do you Hear what I hear?” featured several soloists, who alternated between the flute, clarinet and saxophone, other orchestra members were smiling, proudly nodding as soloists’ instruments sung out above the crowd.

Bass trombonist Jeff Bush blew low, deep, rich vibrating tones to an almost tango rhythmic beat, as “Sleigh Ride” was played. Orchestra members continued to smirk and gesture to one another, as they cheered on their fellow member. It was as though their actions were an extension of the music.

As the concert was coming to a close, “Jingle Bells,” sounded and audience members hummed and sang along.

“Did you have a good time?” Sean Jones asked, as the audience whooped with a resounding, “Yeah!”

The orchestra ended the show with Duke Ellington’s version of “Peanut Brittle Brigade.” As the audience erupted into applause and a standing ovation, Sean Jones remarked, “On behalf of the August Wilson Center and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, we would like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah and wonderful New Year.”

(The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra’s spring concert, featuring Benny Golson, is on April 21, 2012. To learn more about the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra and upcoming performances, please visit: http://pittsburghjazzorchestra.com for more information.)

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