The Jazzcat

USC Thornton School Orchestra at the Bovard Auditorium

by on Dec.04, 2005, under News


Swing baby swing! These cats are sounding

great and the sound is big and full. Shelly Berg is directing the orchestra and

his passion matches the enthusiasm of the players to make it a stage of

uncompromising exuberance.


“Boom Boom” is a piece by Bob Brookmeyer and

it features two freshmen on the piano; two at the same time! The pianists not

only sit next to each other and play but, they also rotate over and under each

other creating quite a visual display as they refuse to miss a note.


A few of the players I recognize from their

performances at the LAX Westin Hotel where I host a jazz music venue every

Wednesday night. In-House music in association with the Westin Hotel sponsor a

program for the students to come down and play during the break of already

scheduled professional performers. The Students can acquire live performance

experience and get their chops workin’ in front of new audiences.


Tonight they are taking the Bovard Auditorium

by storm and you can tell that Shelly Berg is proud to be out front watching,

listening and leading these young cats down the jazz road of wisdom, knowledge,

freedom and experience.


The production of sound and lights are always

quite exquisite her at the Bovard. Fuchsia and blue lights coat the musicians

with a shinny glimmering skin complimented with the smoke of dry ice for an

astonishing visual.


On another piece the trombone and trumpet

were featured. There were a couple of seniors who, oddly enough, thought about the

instruments and stretched their creativity by separating the mouth piece and

using it as its own wind instrument and then hitting it against the bell of the

bone. This multipurpose use shows that these students think outside the box and

that is always what jazz music needs.


There was a special guest for the evening and

Ron McCurdy came out and gave Ramsey Lewis a well deserved introduction. He

came out and played “Wading in the Water” with the orchestra with a big and

soulful sound. The students wrote all of the arrangements for the songs and did

a superb job. And, Oo-Oo child, just when you thought that things were going to

get a little easier, they did when Ramsey laid down a lovely interlude to John

Coltrane’s beautiful ballad , “Dear Lord”.


“Weeping Willow Tree” was the next piece and

after sitting out a tune, the orchestra was ready to light it up with a bluesy

medley arrangement that had you saying not only Dear Lord but, yes Lord as

well. “My Sweet Embraceable You” and “Body and Soul” were classic.


Ramsey has just recently released a gospel album

called “Voices”. One of his compositions, “Trees” was included even though it

is actually not a gospel piece. It included some nice bowing from the bassist

in perfect compliment to the flute.


The orchestra started playing a super

up-tempo bluesy winner with the audience and the guitar player got all into it interjecting

some self imposed improvisational licks. Ramsey responded with a quote from the

great guitarist George Benson’s classic, “On Broadway” as an appreciative musical

pat on the back the of the young player.


The music appealed to the gospel and blues in

everyone. Ramsey and the USC Thornton Orchestra closed it out with, “Oh, Happy

Day”. They all left smiling!


LeRoy Downs


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