The Hillsdale jazz ensemble per­formed for the first time in Plaster Audi­torium. Courtesy | Matt Fisher

The Friday before Hal­loween, most college stu­dents may have been busy cel­e­brating, but at Hillsdale a large crowd filled Plaster Audi­torium to attend a jazz concert.

The Little Big Band and Big Band, Hillsdale’s two jazz ensembles, mounted the stage at 8 p.m. with two setlists that incor­po­rated all dif­ferent styles of jazz. It was a sam­pling platter for the jazz-skeptics of the crowd and a familiar set of tunes for the enthusiasts. 

“I try to display all the dif­ferent styles of jazz in my pro­gramming,” Jon Gewirtz, director of the Little Big Band, said. “On Friday, the band per­formed jazz that would be con­sidered swinging, Latin jazz, funk jazz (fusion), and a ballad. Jazz is a multi-faceted genre, and as an edu­cator, I try to expose the stu­dents to as many dif­ferent sub­genres of jazz as possible.”

With approx­i­mately only an hour for its set, the Little Big Band packed a punch. Whether it was freshman Emily Griffith’s smooth crooning of “My Funny Valentine,” or freshman Owen Gerth’s sax­o­phone solos, the Little Big Band sounded far from little. 

“It was a blast to get a chance to play with some really expe­ri­enced players like Jack and Oliver,” Gerth said. “I think that on the night of the concert our band sounded as good as we ever have, and that all of the soloists really killed it.” 

The Big Band jazz ensemble fol­lowed with another assortment of songs that included jazz classics like Neal Hefti’s “Li’l Darlin’” and funkier tunes like Sammy Nestico’s “Fancy Pants.” Aside from sheer volume, the Big Band brought a sophis­ti­cation to the stage with their set. Although it seemed scat­tered at times in com­parison to that of the Little Big Band, the group kept the audience engaged for the whole set.

The Big Band brought to light many songs that might be familiar to the casual music buff but whose origins and live per­for­mances of the piece might be foreign. Songs like Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “Witch­craft” audibly struck a chord with the audience. 

“Our band rehearses once a week which means we had only 7 – 8 rehearsals to put this show together. Stu­dents had to work very hard to pull this off in such a short time.” Gewirtz said. “Not only did they sound great, but it was a real high­light to see the joy on their faces after playing. It was a really great accom­plishment con­sid­ering some of them had never even played in a band like that before.”

From a sea­soned musician to a casual lis­tener, the jazz ensembles this past weekend teased a promising 2021 – 2022 season for the department. 

“I know nothing about jazz,” freshman Eli Hudson said. “I was expecting to go for thirty minutes to support my roommate and then leave, but I enjoyed it. I ended up staying for the whole concert.”