Tuesday, February 24, 2015

top ten Tuesday: UMM jazz songs.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I had the BEST time in college. I was fortunate enough to choose exactly the right college for me, which is fairly remarkable considering I toured exactly three colleges.

Honestly, I didn’t even WANT to tour the University of Minnesota, Morris. I was planning to go to Gustavus Adolphus in St Peter because 1.) what a cool name, and 2.) they had the best food court I had ever seen. Quality reasons, I know.

But I visited UMM anyway, one lovely October day in 2004. My mom (who had wanted me to give UMM a chance all along) and I made the journey to Morris, and as soon as I set foot on the campus, I knew this was the place for me. It was love at first sight.

My tenure at UMM was chock-full of good things. I discovered the joys of art history, worked at the radio station and the newspaper, met my future husband, and made life-long friends.

Those friends and that future husband? All in the UMM jazz band.
I didn’t join jazz band until my sophomore year – after all, I was a clarinet player, and our jazz band didn’t have a clarinet section. I spent my freshman year playing my clarinet in concert band and being jealous of all my friends in jazz band, and I gamely tried my best to learn tenor saxophone over the summer. When school crept around again, I was decent enough to join one of the Cougar jazz bands.

During my time in UMM jazz, the jazz bands were broken into four main groups: Jazz I (super good), Jazz II (good), and Cougar I and II. The Cougar bands were the same, talent-wise: the only difference was that one was led by the jazz director and the other was led by a student director. We affectionately called them the Cougs. The Coug bands were the noncommittal jazz bands – for those of us who weren’t necessarily that good and just wanted to play. (Without having to practice much/at all.)

Those were also the jazz bands that music majors would join if they wanted to try their hand at a different instrument: my friend Nate played trombone in Jazz I and trumpet in Coug I.

Most of my jazz band time was spent in Coug I (save for the single semester Coug I wouldn’t fit into my schedule, and I was relegated to Monday night Coug II). My friends were all in Coug I, and I loved each student director: Nolan my first year, Kevin my second, and James my last. (I wish I could say that having my then-boyfriend-now-husband as a director allowed me special privileges, but it didn’t. Maybe he didn’t appreciate me boo-ing a few of his song choices from the front row.)

Coug I was a fifty-minute class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I sat next to my friend and fellow tenor sax Clara, who was way better than me and bravely took the solos. We moaned and groaned at our least favorite songs and accidentally stole egg shakers.
My friends Sara, Nate, and Donovan were trumpet players, they cheerfully heckled each student director from their place on the risers. Jazz band was the greatest.
We had three concerts a year (October, November, February), three jazz dances (December, February, April), and one Jazz Fest (April). My parents happily came to Morris for each concert, which – we all agreed – were much more fun than the concert band concerts.
It was great fun for me to play, but it was just as much fun for me to listen to the other bands play. Jazz I always performed last, and they were show-stoppers.

So, for this musical top ten Tuesday, I’d like to present my top ten UMM jazz band songs. Five of them I played, five of them I didn’t. I noted the date we played them to the best of my memory/researching some of the old jazz programs James still has saved. So allow me to present my ten favorite UMM jazz songs!


Blues in the Night
November 2006
We played "Blues in the Night" at my second jazz concert of all time. (Alas, I can't remember what I played at my first jazz concert of all time.) I recall being very excited that I could actually play the saxophone part - keep in mind that I had been playing saxophone for a mere five months by this point. You don't have to be impressed, but I'm still going to feel a-ok about it.

Jazz Fest 2007
My first Jazz Fest! It was always fun to go to Jazz Fest, but it was nowhere near as fun as playing in it. 
First Jazz Fest!
We all had our matching t-shirts and matching excitement, and I got to use an egg shaker for the first time. (It wasn't until my final jazz fest that I accidentally stole the egg shaker. It may or may not still be in my saxophone case to this day.)

Coconut Champagne
October 2007
"Coconut Champagne" is by far my favorite song that I played during my jazz years. It was so much fun to play, and it was catchy as hell. The saxophone part was super fun - fun enough that I even WANTED to practice. I NEVER want to practice. That, my friends, is a big deal.

Carnival del Soul
February 2008
As you've probably noticed, all of my favorite songs are super catchy. "Carnival del Soul" is not only catchy, but short and sweet: the recording I have of the UMM Jazz Band clocks in at just over two minutes. It's got a great beat and speeds right along, and you can't say that about all jazz.

jazz dances, 2008 - 2009
As I was making this list, I noticed that songs from James's days as the jazz director didn't make the cut. "Didn't you pick anything good?" I asked him. "I wanted to, but you guys had already played the good stuff!" he said. So under James's direction, we played the good stuff at the jazz dances. I loved playing "Birdland," and you have to admit that it just makes you want to dance.


The First Circle
November 2006
Jazz I was made up of the best and the brightest: the super-talented musicians who could take anything thrown at them. "The First Circle" was a song that Jazz I played one concert just to show us how just exactly how talented they were. "The First Circle" was full of crazy time signatures that changed all the time, and James says it was super complicated and he tried to explain why but he ended up getting really technical and convoluted, so let's just leave it at this: it was hard and sounded really cool. The end.

Village Dance
October 2007
While "Coconut Champagne" is my favorite song that I've played in jazz band, "Village Dance" is my favorite song from any of the jazz concerts and dances, period. I asked James (who played in all of these songs but one) what I should say about "Village Dance," and he gave me the following bullshit:

"The low brass is explosive!"
"The sound is voluptuous!"
"It's like a power ballad... but not a ballad."

When James played this song that year, he had just learned how to circular breathe: you push air through your horn with your mouth while still breathing air in through your nose. It creates the illusion that you never stop for air, and it's really cool if you execute it correctly. James tried out circular breathing during his solo in "Village Dance," and it worked like a charm. The crowd went wild.

Jalapeno Dreams
February 2008
When Jazz I played something really cool, they always played it right at the end. No surprise, "Jalapeno Dreams" was one such piece. There are a lot of songs on this list vying for the title of catchiest, but I wonder if "Jalapeno Dreams" couldn't take the title. I'm listening to it as I'm typing, and I'm involuntarily bobbing my head - and out of the corner of my eye, I see James doing the same thing. James, the resident jazz expert, wants you to know that they played it at 200 beats per minute: aka very VERY fast. He also thinks you should know that it features each section individually. You're getting quite the music lesson today.

St Thomas
jazz combo
Yet another magnificently catchy jazz standard. There have been times I've had "St Thomas" stuck in my head for days on end. And you know what? I was ok with it. At the UMM jazz concerts, the four big jazz bands played, but sprinkled among them were combos. The combos had anywhere from three to nine people, and they played one song apiece. One combo played "St Thomas," which I'd never heard before. Changed my life.

The Bunny Hop
jazz dances
At the jazz dances, Jazz I played last and got all the best dance songs like "In the Mood" and "Sing Sing Sing." And of course, "The Bunny Hop." What made it memorable was that the musicians would come out on the dance floor and play their instruments... while doing the actual Bunny Hop. (If you didn't watch the Lawrence Welk video, do it right now. That's the Bunny Hop, and it's even more fantastic when Lawrence Welk does it.) That truly takes talent.


There you have it: my top ten UMM jazz songs. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go and play my saxophone.

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