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.