Goodbye Billy Jangles

On an evening that ended a week of rain, there was jazz.

The SHSU Jazz Lab Band and Ensemble performed their first concert of the semester Oct. 18 .

The hollow, expansive feeling of the David and Grettle Payne Concert Hall can make you feel small— not in a bad way, but the kind garnered in an old cathedral with a feeling of relief and surrender. The musicians in their black attire took their seats on stage. For what always seems too long, the instruments purred irreverently as the musicians prepared. Like a spoon against a champagne glass, the pianist started tapping a single key to end all the chatter. Silence pervaded the hall. Their band director Aric Schneller entered the stage. First up was the Jazz Lab Band.

The first song was the “Mission Impossible” theme song. The drummer Josiah McDuffie kept things thrilling, adding all the intensity required for the parts of the song that would play during otherworldly jumps, booms and blasts.

Following that was a ballad, featuring the round but striking lead of Juan Chavez and his flugelhorn as the guitar in the background grounded the affair. As the song concluded, the slow descending strum of guitarist Greg Sanderson painted the finishing touches of a seductive scene.

“Bossa Rio by John Fedchock let the horn section loose, transporting me to a sort of 1950’s ball in a tropical place. It was like attempting to recite poetry to a beautiful woman with red lips. The song was better than my imagination. In short, it sounded like the act of courting.

Finally, the last and best song of the set was “Moanin’ by Charles Mingus. Before they played, Schneller teased the coming “tenor battle” between Parker Bretz and Marco Ulloa. Christopher Swatzel was on the baritone saxophone and got us started with some hot solo licks. The people in the band and audience made faces as if they’d just eaten something spicy after every spout from the mighty baritone.

Ulloa started with a long tour de force. Bretz hissed back and waited for the next move of his victim like a snake. They were juggernauts of sound, packaged gracefully with more aggression than any heavy metal. I could only reasonably call the battle a draw. The lab band completed their impossible mission, and now came the ensemble.

 Another round of applause came as Schneller re-entered the stage.

“How many people have seen Austin Powers?” Schneller asked. Some hands raised and some heads nodded and the show began.

The band played “Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones that was featured in the aforementioned film. Jesus Del Campo on alto saxophone took his solo like a man that has been doing it for 40 years. It seemed as if his instrument was another ligament. He swung with an effortless ease.

The tune “Time After Time followed. The introductory keys of Colyn Szumanski’s piano reminded me of how the sun finally came out of the rain this week.

On lead trumpet, Andrew Wilson’s face was vacuum-sealed and red. All oxygen devoted to the task, he held tight for another note that sang as intimidatingly planned as the last. The entire saxophone section stood up to play the song’s melody in unison like a divinely guided ocean wave. There was utter power and joy, the theme of those moments in all of our lives when the trees bend to shade us and the wind pushes us forward.

“Dark Orchid” by Sammy Nestico offered a different vision of a day. The rhythm sounded like running, like each step was hoping to find resolution, only ever coming to a higher plane from the last.

The night was dedicated to famed trombonist Bill Watrous, who passed away in July. Watrous had a hand in many Hollywood studio recordings during his distinguished career.  He is the namesake of the Bill Watrous Jazz Festival held at SHSU in the spring semester. However, to Schneller, he was a lot more than that.

That brought us to one of the last songs of the night, “This One’s for Jangles”. It is an original sang by Schneller in loving memory of his mentor and friend.

The song turned mere personal feelings into vibrating realities for us to hear. I hope Watrous heard them too.

And the last line was sung, “Goodbye Billy Jangles.”

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