Friday, April 24, 2015

Garnet Valley Jazz with Denis DiBlasio

As someone with a lifelong love of music, and an interest in jazz in particular, I was excited to see what "Garnet Valley Jazz Night 2015" would be like. Turns out it was better than I would have imagined...

Over the course of the 2 hour concert, there were performances by a variety of Middle School and High School jazz ensembles and combos, interspersed with solos and duets. I was amazed at the quality of the music, and the fact that many of these high school kids could improvise solos without it sounding like a disjointed mess. Throughout the evening, guest artist Denis DiBlasio joined in with the student groups.

I won't repeat the (very) long and distinguished career of DiBlasio (Yamaha artist profile here), but the short version is that he played with Maynard Ferguson's band in the 1980's, serving as his musical director for 5 years, and now runs the Jazz program at Rowan University in New Jersey, where apparently one of his students was Steve Selfridge, one of our music teachers, and one of the driving forces behind the jazz program.

DiBlasio plays baritone sax and flute, and hearing him play with our kids was pretty cool. The truly amazing part was at the end of the concert, when he about five songs with his own quartet (all recent graduates of the Masters program he oversees at Rowan). Simply incredible, and a real treat to see such accomplished musicians in a small intimate setting (we were in about row 5).

A clip of DiBlasio playing with Maynard Ferguson in Montreal in 1982 is here. He is the burly dark haired bearded sax player first seen at around the 1:00 minute mark, and taking center stage at around minute 21:30...  Another classic tune, "Salt Peanuts" is here with an extended solo right out of the gate. I'm not much for the scat singing, but I get its place in jazz history. Anyway...

The evening ended with Steve Selfridge joining DiBlasio and his quartet for a final song. I've known that Mr. Selfridge is great at teaching the young kids (his main job is in the elementary school), and I knew he could play lots of instruments very well, beyond just the reeds he specializes in, but I had no idea how good he really was. He lit it up on sax with extended improv solos of his own.

The concert was a real treat, and I am glad that we went even though we had no direct involvement in it (i.e. kids of our own playing). I didn't know that there was a professional guest, which turned out to be a very nice surprise. Being a trumpet player back in my youth, it has been fascinating watching old Maynard Ferguson concert footage. It's always nice when something unexpectedly expands your horizons... And we are fortunate to be in a school district with such a great music program.

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