Elon University’s 22nd annual Jazz Festival took over McCrary Theatre this weekend.
In addition to the university’s jazz ensemble, bands from 13 total middle schools and high schools came to Elon’s campus to perform on Friday. They got feedback from special guest Doug Henry, a saxophonist based in Charlotte and an active member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and the Elon music department chair, Jon Metzger.
Other special guests included Marcus Roberts, a highly accomplished jazz pianist and composer whom Rusty Smith hailed as “the greatest musician you’ve never heard of,” along with his team: bassist Rodney Jordan and substitute drummer Brian Carter.
Smith is an adjunct professor of music, the director of the Elon University jazz ensemble and the coordinator of the Jazz Festival.
Henry and Roberts both shared their musical genius in their own respective masterclasses. Henry addressed both the university and younger students while Roberts worked only with Elon’s group.
Oliver Satola, a pianist from a jazz band at Georgetown High School in Washington, D.C., said he was “looking forward to hearing Marcus Roberts play.”
"We heard him play last year at the UNC concert," Satola said. "He was really good...I love his style."
Elon junior and lead alto saxophonist Josh Scovern had only good things to say about Roberts’ masterclass.
“His clinic today with the jazz band from Elon was pretty awesome,” Scovern said. “It was a good butt-kicking...we need to work on a lot of stuff, but it was good, like, this is a lot of fun. This is what jazz is actually about...there’s more art and feeling it, versus playing the notes on the page.”
Trombonist and Elon alum Sandy Griffin '80 echoed the sentiment.
“It went outstanding,” Griffin said. “Such a talent. That’s a rare thing, and for the university to offer it for free is really something. He’s a true virtuoso, tremendous individual...It was an honor to share the stage with him. It’s a rare thing.”
The Elon jazz ensemble performed four out of five songs with Henry Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., including Gordon Goodwin’s rendition of “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
“These kids have worked their tails off,” Smith said. “These kids have learned five new tunes, brand new from the ground up for this performance.”
Despite some concerns during rehearsal, Scovern was pleased with their performance.
“It came together,” Scovern said. “It was a lot of fun. We pulled together ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ at the last moment, so that was pretty cool. A lot of us had toured it in Italy with jazz band...it was nice to see the combo group pull together at the last minute.”
Guest of honor Roberts was also pleased with the jazz band’s work.
“They work very hard,” Roberts said. “We had a nice, long rehearsal this afternoon, threw a lot of stuff at them and they dealt with it. I think it’s wonderful energy.”
After Elon and Henry's performance, the Marcus Roberts Trio performed a stunning set. And at the end, the trio reunited with Elon students for the final song of the night, “Attacked by the Blues.”
“Hearing the college band play jazz music, as I said to the audience, it just gives me a lot of hope and good feelings as far as where the music is going because the future of the music is in the hands of your generation,” Roberts said.
“When you’re young, you don’t really see a lot of obstacles that people see as they get older,” Roberts said. “I think that’s one of the good things about jazz music. It kind of teaches you how to negotiate a lot of that. So I felt wonderful about hearing them, working with them and just seeing the energy and the good spirit they had toward playing.”