“Hillsdale is unique because our [jazz] combo program is so strong,” said Chris McCourry, artist and teacher of music. “We’ll have at least six or seven combos next year. We just keep growing.”
This year, in addition to the regular spring concerts, McCourry and the jazz department are attending two festivals in February and are recording a CD in March.
“We have got to put in the work but I’m really excited about how the band will sound come spring,” he said.
The Hillcats and the Hillsdale College Big Band will record a CD in March featuring jazz singer and senior Erin O’ Luanaigh.
“This CD is kind of [McCourry’s] parting gift to me,” O’ Luanaigh said. “It’s a big favor to me.”
The CD will feature between 10 and 12 tracks, at least eight in which O’ Luanaigh will sing. The tracks will be recorded in a recording studio in either Ann Arbor or Albion, O’ Luanaigh said.
Even though O’ Luanaigh recorded a couple CDs in high school, this will be her first experience recording with a live band.
“I love performing things live,” she said. “It’s one my great joys in life to have unedited studio cuts of tracks.”
McCourry said the CD’s theme is “Erin as vocal soloist.” The original plan was to record an Anita O’Day theme but McCourry and O’ Luanaigh keep adding other new tracks.
McCourry has intended to do a project similar to this one since her sophomore year, O’ Luanaigh said.
“It will also be a great memento of my years singing jazz here and all of the work I’ve put into both bands,” she said.
The CD will help with recruiting jazz and music students and in fundraising for the college, McCourry said.
“It should have a wide appeal and be accessible to any listener,” he said.
He also said it is a feature for O’ Luanaigh.
“She’s extremely talented and I don’t get students of her talent come through here all that often,” he said.
Jazz CDs should be released before the end of the semester and will be available for sale to students.
L.A. Jazz Festival
Before the CD project gets in full swing, the Big Band and four jazz combos, about 30 students total, will attend the first Liberal Arts Jazz Festival at Albion College on Feb. 25.
One week earlier, on Feb. 11, jazz students will perform at the Michigan Jazz Festival.
McCourry said he has been working on planning the L.A. Jazz Fest with James Ball, Albion’s band director and the bass player for the Hillcats, since the beginning of the year.
“There is nothing else like this,” he said. “It’s focused on the needs of liberal arts colleges without grad programs, like Hillsdale and Albion. There will be no competition. I love competition but in the academic music world, it’s frowned upon.”
Instead of a competition, the L.A. Jazz Fest features longer performance times and more intimate clinics. Three professionals will listen and critic each performance for 40 minutes, compared to the 15 minute sessions at the Michigan Jazz Fest.
Clinicians include all of the Hillcat performers, drummer Jim Rupp, and vocalists Briann Perry.
During clinics, other bands and local high school jazz players can sit in and listen.
“I’m interested to hear from the pool of college bands and it’s always great to make new friends,” O’ Luanaigh said. “Our band has improved so much. We’re at the peak of our skill.”
Clinicians will still announce outstanding awards, McCourry said.
Instructor in Art Bryan Springer said he started working on a logo for the L.A. Jazz Fest just before the beginning of this semester.
“As an instrument, I thought the saxophone communicated the idea of jazz well,” Springer said. “Knowing Chris, I experimented with a trumpet (of course), but the sax was just the most successful visual idea. The curvilinear contour and oblique slant give the logo a nice ‘cool’ jazz feel. Of course it is blue — it’s jazz and blues, man. It also works for Hillsdale College.”
Springer and McCourry went through only one revision of the sax/L.A. logo.
“It’s a pleasure working with Prof. McCourry,” Springer said. “I am very fortunate that he is a fan of my work and has so often replied positively to my initial mock-ups.”
Springer’s logo is currently being created into a festival t‑shirt design.
Next year, Hillsdale will host the L.A. Jazz Fest.