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Jazz Ensemble's Notre Dame success promises to come again


Directed by Jamshied Sharifi.

Works by Sharifi, Arimasa,

and Williams.

Part of the Notre Dame Collegiate

Jazz Festival, South Bend, IN,

April 7-9.


THE MIT FESTIVAL JAZZ ENSEMBLE, directed by Jamshied Sharifi '83, attended the 31st Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival at the University of Notre Dame last weekend. The Notre Dame CJF is the premier event of its kind and attracts the finest college groups in the country. MIT was one of eight big bands along with six smaller combos selected to perform at the festival.

As Dave Ricks '83 soloed in the heated spotlight at Notre Dame's Stepan Center with the black and red clad FJE rhythm and horns behind him, an enchanting mist could be seen emerging from his bell over the dancing lyricism of his flugelhorn phrases. After the smoke cleared, Ricks walked away with recognition as outstanding trumpet soloist of the two-day festival, and the MIT band returned home Sunday night with a few new fans and encouraging reviews from the various adjudicators.

This year, the MITFJE was selected to close out the Friday night slate of bands. The 10:30 pm set opened with the lively "Playhouse," written by Sharifi last spring, which featured Dan Hosken '90 on guitar and Ricks on flugelhorn. Sharifi's funky "Long Words, Excellent Words" followed with Mike Herman G featured on vibes. Forrest Buzan G soloed on tenor saxophone and Ricks covered on flugelhorn the usual alto saxophone part since lead alto player Susan Ward '92 was ill and could not attend the festival. She was replaced on very short notice by Hemanshu Lakhani '89.

The FJE continued with "Brumel is Back" by Berklee student Yuki Arimasa, a work funded by the MIT Council for the Arts and written for the band this year. Peter Andrews '89 soloed on baritone saxophone; Ricks soloed on trumpet. Sharifi's ballad "Turn" relaxed the tempo of the set with Buzan up front on soprano sax. The up-tempo finale, James Williams' "Stretchin', " arranged by Greg Hopkins, spotlighted the entire trombone section and also showed off Mike Valdez '90 on piano, Ricks on trumpet, Buzan on tenor sax, and Kevin Peterson '88 on bass. The audience that packed Stepan Center to listen to the popular South Bend festival responded to the performance with a hearty ovation and complements to the band on its unique style of music and thrilling performance.

The MITFJE received mixed reviews from the judges, who praised the technical proficiency and solo work of the players but sometimes criticized the music selection.

Although he admitted to having "a soft spot for this band" because he had attended MIT and played often with former FJE leader Herb Pomeroy, judge Chuck Israels was probably the biggest critic of the band, calling one chart "music for weightlessness" and interpreting another as having "trendy formlessness." Judge Frank Wess also commented that some of the charts were "really not jazz-oriented," but others found this to be a virtue.

Perennial adjudicator Dan Morgenstern expressed his continuing fondness for the band's style when he noted that it is "as usual, a pleasure to hear some music that's not predictable." "Tonight Show" drummer Ed Shaugnessy concurred, saying that "Sharifi's writing is original and fresh." Most of the judges also commented favorably on the ensemble playing of the band and gave the band good marks in the categories of musicianship, ensemble, rhythm feel, soloists, and effect.

Recent East Coast appearances by the FJE at the Tufts and Boston University Jazz Festivals have established the band as a Boston area favorite with audiences and jazz professionals. "Tonight Show" tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts and trumpeter and former FJE leader Herb Pomeroy gave the band high praise at the Boston University festival this year and selected the FJE as one of two festival winners. This earned them the opportunity to share the evening spotlight at the February festival with Watts and the BU Jazz Band.

The band will close out the season on May 5 with their last home performance of the school year in the MIT Spring Jazz Festival to be held in Kresge Auditorium. The show will include sets by the MIT Concert Jazz Band, the Festival Jazz Ensemble, and guest bands. The FJE set of the concert promises to be an emotional and energetic reprise of its Notre Dame material and premieres of new material written this year for the band.

(Editor's note: Ali Azar G is a member of the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble.)