The aroma of musty vinyl floated over the voices and instruments of Hillsdale College Faculty Jazz band the Hillcats this past Saturday, as the musicians and community remembered the music of singer-songwriter James Taylor.
The classic sound of Taylor’s music was performed by the Hillcats with the accompaniment of vocals by Hank Horton on Feb. 22.
“Jazz can handle anything, even James Taylor music,” music director and trumpet player Christopher McCourry told the audience.
Bursting at the seams five minutes after the performance’s start, only standing room was available, although some members pulled forward decorative chairs and loveseats from the back of the room, desperate for the tunes of Taylor.
“This will be the last concert the Hillcats will be playing in this room,” McCourry said. “We’ll be in Phillips Auditorium with 700 seats, so no one will have to stand. We’re ready to move on.”
Playing Taylor’s most well-known pieces, from “Fire and Rain,” to “Mexico,” to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” the audience bopped their heads along with the familiar tunes.
“When you do this kind of music, it lends itself to saxophone,” McCourry said.
“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” shortly followed, with the audience completely silent as trombone player Rob Killips played a solo.
After playing for several minutes, the audience boomed with applause that echoed throughout McNamara.
“I really appreciated the chance to perform alongside such talented musicians,” background vocalist and sophomore John Szczotka said. “I don’t remember the last time I’ve been so musically intimidated by people I’m sharing a stage with.”
Horton attributed the performance of “Sweet Baby James” to his grandson, and McCourry pointed out afterwards, “Those tears, I see them.”
Reminiscing, McCourry recounted a memory of his own to the audience of The Drifters’ “Up On the Roof” which he associates with his early childhood.
“I remember listening to this tune since it was one of the three records I remember finding in my grandmother’s basement as a kid,” McCourry said. “I remember listening to it over and over.”
Senior Shadrach Strehle introduced the Hillcats at the beginning of the evening, and later joined the musicians on stage, playing the bass for the song “Steamroller.”
“I have a ton of respect for the musicians in the Hillcats, and I do everything I can to make it to every one of their shows,” Strehle said. “The jazz department has given me an amazing opportunity to play in multiple ensembles despite not being a music major or minor, and having that opportunity has brought me an incredible amount of joy.”
Even the audience members appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the music of James Taylor at Hillsdale.
“I was so impressed by the way the ensemble transformed the iconic sound of James Taylor, while still maintaining the essential elements,” audience member Kate Ford said. “It was a dynamic and engaging experience. I’m grateful that Hillsdale offers opportunities for events like this.”