Hillsdale’s faculty jazz ensemble, The Hillcats, will perform a concert Friday night at 8 p.m. in Phillips Audi­torium.

“The music we present at this concert or at any other concert is always very dif­ficult,” said Teacher of Music Chris McCourry, trumpet player and leader of the group. “The idea is to present the highest quality jazz music to the stu­dents.”

This concert will focus on the music of Cedar Walton, a bebop pianist and com­poser who died this past August after a long career that began in the late 1950s.

McCourry said the Hillcats perform once each semester, and the concert always has a theme, often a spe­cific artist.

The ensemble began as a student group in the 1990s and recently became an all-faculty band.

“My original hope was that it would build to that, and it has,” McCourry said. “And it just keeps growing. It keeps getting better and better. It’s a very cool thing.”

Members of the band said they enjoy the oppor­tu­nities for impro­vi­sation that jazz pro­vides, and try to make their pieces sound original.

“We listen to the recordings, and we decide as a group: do we want to sound like the recording, or do we want to give it our own stamp,” Lec­turer in Music and pianist Arlene McDaniel said. “We do our own arrange­ments of the tunes; we don’t make it sound exactly like the recording. But we may use some ideas from the recording –– it varies from one tune to the next.”

McCourry said the band adding their own touch is the key to keeping the music fresh.

“To try to find new inspi­ra­tions, new ideas, that’s the idea, to keep it alive so that it’s not just a museum piece, it’s living,” he said. “A lot of people will say that jazz is dead, and it can be thought of as very anti­quated music. It’s still growing, and it’s still devel­oping.”

For McCourry, hearing jazz music live for the first time as a child was what drew him to it. He said going to a concert is an expe­rience you can never get from lis­tening to a recording.

“It’s like the dif­ference between seeing a play on TV and being in the theater,” he said.

The Hillcats meet for two-hour rehearsals every Thursday and schedule their teaching around that time.

Lec­turer in Music and drummer Lawrence Ochiltree said Walton’s music has a dif­ferent feel from some tra­di­tional jazz.

“It has more of a rock feel that came out of the ‘60s, sort of a jazz fusion feel. So that’s where you’ll hear some subtle dif­fer­ences,” he said.

The pieces the band will play are called “Bolivia,” “Cedar’s Blues,” “Clockwise,” “Ugetsu,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Ojos De Rojo,” and “Charmed Circle.”

“I’m really enjoying the music. It’s chal­lenging. It’s all new music to me, which I’m finding really enlight­ening,” McDaniel said.