The Ole Miss Jazz Ensemble, known as “The Mississippians,” performed in a prime spot on February 27, at the 58th Annual Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival in South Bend, Indiana.
The festival, held annually since 1959, is known for bringing together distinguished jazz ensembles from across the country to face a panel of judges made up of highly-regarded musicians to create the most noteworthy festival of its kind.
“The entire band is this unified machine with one common goal: to continue the legacy of one of the oldest collegiate jazz bands in the country,” freshman trombonist Kurt Hickey said. “The jazz festival in Notre Dame allowed us the opportunity to represent that legacy. Being asked to attend was truly an honor.”
The 18-piece ensemble is made up of traditional jazz instruments including saxophones, trumpets, trombones, guitar, bass, piano, and percussion. Michael Worthy, associate professor of music at Ole Miss, directs the band.
Following their stellar performance, the judges awarded the band First Division ratings. The judge’s panel of five included Christine and Ingrid Jensen, Allison Miller, Helen Sung, and Marion Hayden, all of whom are esteemed jazz musicians.
“I was really glad to receive the scores- I had never heard the group swing so hard,” trumpeter Matt Moore said.
Trombonist Hunter McGuary and guitarist Alicia Venchuk won awards certificates for “Outstanding Soloist”.
“It is a complete honor to have won that award. To have seen and heard all of the other musicians that were there and have the judges pick me out from the crowd is truly astounding,” McGuary said. “It gives me hope for a future in performance.”
The group played five iconic tunes including: “Hey, Jealous Lover” by The Count Basie Band, “Absolution” by Jim McNeely, “Robot Portrait” by Quincy Jones, “Tisherome” by Mary Lou Williams, and “Air Mail Special” by Bennie Goodman, arranged by Quincy Jones.
“The one I got the most exhilarating part to play was ‘Air Mail Special.’ The speed and the technique required to play it was intense,” saxophonist James Mahalak said, “but, ‘Hey, Jealous Lover’ was my favorite piece to play because it’s such a hard hitting swing tune.”
One of the biggest highlights of the ensemble’s trip was being able meet internationally acclaimed jazz musicians.
“They’re pretty much are celebrities to people like us. To know that they have played with jazz legends is incredible to think about,” McGuary said. “Those musicians have played and learned from the people whose records we own, listen to, and try to emulate.”
While in Indiana for the weekend, the group also got to see sights that they could really appreciate.
“We went to the Bach Factory and met the president and CEO of Conn-Selmer. It gave me more of an appreciation of instruments because it takes a lot of hands on crafts to make instruments,” trombonist Quayshun Shumpert said. “It gives it an intimate feel to see it made by hand.”
Saxophonist Dakota Dooley embraces the challenging atmosphere that the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble offers.
“I’ve been in jazz bands before, but only in the Mississippians did I feel like a jazz player. Jazz is a dying art that you don’t hear everyday, and isn’t considered mainstream,” Dooley said. “That group is such a small intimate group that really has to gel together. Every player from lead to bass is important and can’t be skimped. This group is challenging, but possibly the most rewarding ensemble at University of Mississippi.”
Both undergraduate and graduate students enroll for academic credit, meet three times weekly, and get the opportunity to explore improvisation, arranging and composing. To learn more about the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble at the University of Mississippi, visit jazz.olemiss.edu.
“We live in a generation that has lost touch with its jazz roots. ‘The Mississippians’ is one of the oldest jazz groups in the country,” Moore said. “By playing with this group, you are helping preserve one of our nation’s greatest traditions.”
Cambria Abdeen is an intern at hottytoddy.com. She is currently a student at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Cambria can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Photos Courtesy of Members of the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble.