April 4, 2013
April is National Jazz Month, and Tuesday night at the Fillius Events Barn, Hamilton students were treated to the Harlem Blues & Jazz Band. The eight piece group featured Ruth Brisbane on vocals, Michael Fleming on bass, Bill Wurtzel on guitar, Joey Morant on trumpet, Ray Blue on tenor sax, Zeke Mullins on piano, Art Baron on trombone and Jackie Williams on drums. The band was founded by Hamilton alumnus Dr. Al Vollmer ’52 in 1972. They have played around the world and are gearing up for a European tour in June. Earlier in the afternoon, the band members sat in on the Hamilton College Jazz Ensemble rehearsal, offering tips and talking about their musical influences. Baron toured with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the ‘70s and had some great stories about Duke’s quirky sense of humor.
Dr. Al Vollmer was excited about the opportunity for the students. “The band has played here several times, but this is the first time we’ve gotten the chance to interact with students and play with them,” he said.
The show started with the classic Billy Strayhorn tune, “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Fleming, Wurtzel, Williams and Mullins kept the rhythm rock solid, as the horn sections showcased their virtuoso skills. Morant played a squealing, dynamic solo as Baron and Blue played impromptu backgrounds. Next, the band played the Louis Armstrong tune “Struttin with Some Barbeque” in an up-tempo, New Orleans style. With the various call and responses between the horns and drum accents, it was clear that this band was really in tune with one another. Ruth Brisbane, with a low, Bille Holiday-like voice, sang several tunes, including “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and a soulful blues. Whether it was Morant standing on chairs, or Ruth calling out the ladies, the band engaged the audience in a humorous and entertaining way. The highlight of the evening was definitely watching William’s extended drum solo on “Caravan,” in which he paused to wave at the audience while banging on the drums with mallets, tambourines, and even his bare hands! The players encouraged and applauded one another during solos, and genuinely seemed like they were enjoying themselves.
Special thanks to Monk Rowe and Dr. Michael Woods for bringing in these fantastic musicians. We hope the Harlem Blues & Jazz Band comes back to the Hill soon. Fortunately, with another concert by up-and-coming jazz bassist Ben Williams this Saturday at Wellin Hall, there’s more great jazz to look forward to this month!