The United States Air Force Academy’s Falconaires brought their jazz styling to Pease Auditorium last Friday in a concert hosted by the Eastern Michigan University Department of Music and Dance. The EMU Jazz Ensemble, led by Professor Donald Babcock, opened for The Falconaires.
It is always interesting to see a college jazz group playing in the same concert as a professional one, for comparative purposes. In this case, the EMU Jazz Ensemble surprisingly held its own.
EMU’s group played four modern jazz tunes and had a fairly rich sound. While there were a few mistakes on technical portions, that is to be expected with a college ensemble. For the most part, the ensemble was tight and played well together.
One of the pleasant surprises of the first portion of the show was a piece featuring trombonists Emily Burkett and Aaron Recchia. They both played with warm tones and nice balance with the ensemble.
The Falconaires, of course, were the highlight of the show.
Armed Forces musical ensembles are usually very high-quality, and the Falconaires were no exception. An 18-piece big band playing a mix of jazz classics, modern jazz and original compositions, The Falconaires were, to put it plainly, “off the hook.”
Concerto for Cootie, in particular, was a highlight. The piece paid tribute to Cootie Williams, a trumpeter who gained fame first as a member of Duke Ellington’s band, and later with his own band. He was also the first trumpet player to use a standard toilet plunger as a mute, a practice which is now common in jazz music. Master Sergeant Mark Israel played Cootie in this performance and his playing simply oozed cool.
The band was joined by Technical Sergeant Christina Saalborn for vocals on a few pieces. Saalborn has a voice that could melt any man’s heart, and she did just that during “What Is This Thing Called Love.” A very versatile singer, though, Saalborn put smiles on faces as she rendered toe-tapping versions of “I Feel a Song Coming On” and the Nat King Cole favorite “L-O-V-E.”
No Armed Forces show is complete without a little national pride, and this concert was no exception. The band invited veterans, along with family members and friends of veterans, to stand as they performed a medley of the theme songs of each branch of the armed services.
Between each song, audiences were given some background about the music, the band and the Air Force in general by the silken-voiced Lieutenant Colonel Larry Lang. His good nature, showmanship and beautiful pipes gave the entire program a sense of continuity and unity. Even though a few recruiting pitches could be expected, he delivered them in an unobtrusive manner that didn’t detract at all from the fun of the concert.
All in all, the concert was a great musical experience, both from the EMU Jazz Ensemble and The Falconaires, and a fantastic way to begin a weekend.