SSU Jazz Orchestra rocks out for a cause

Featuring popular classic rock arrangements from the 1970s and 1980s, the Sonoma State University Jazz Orchestra will be performing this Friday, September 21, in Rock, Strings & Horns - A Concert For Violet.Director of Jazz Studies Doug Leibinger is starting his tenth year with the Sonoma State Department of Music. The concert will be honoring his mother, Violet, who passed away from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The performance is dedicated to Alzheimer’s awareness. 

Although the performance is by the Jazz Orchestra, the event is a rock concert--including songs by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and others. “We will play rock tunes from the 70s and 80s orchestrated for a 50-piece band,” Leibinger said, “The choice of songs is inspired by tunes that I used to listen to with my mother growing up.”

Along with the Sonoma State students and community members that make up this semester’s Jazz Orchestra, the high energy concert will also feature Nicole Yarling from the Miami Jazz Co-Op on vocals and electric violin, Sonoma State Faculty Eric Caballo on guitar, and Sonoma State Department of Music Chair John Palmer on keyboard and piano. While being the director and conductor, Leibinger will also be featured on vocals, guitar, and even accordion. According to Leibinger, the Jazz Orchestra is “a 20-24 piece band, with 10 brass, 6 saxophones/woodwinds, and rhythm section.” This concert also features a string section, a chorus, and encourages the audience to participate by singing along.

Starting at 7 p.m. last Wednesday, in Weill Hall, the Jazz Orchestra began the rehearsal with the vocalists in the chorus. Grouped around the set of four microphones, the chorus laughed and joked around with one another during sound checks and in between instruction. At around 7:30 p.m., the instrumentalists began to spill onto the stage. Soon Weill Hall was filled with the sound of chatter and various instruments warming up. As the mass rehearsal began, Leibinger walked around the stage to listen for different parts of the orchestra and conduct, instead of choosing to remain stationary in center stage.

Throughout the rehearsal, the ensemble danced and sang along from their seats as each song went on. Having been in Sonoma State’s Symphonic Orchestra, junior cellist Brynn Dally is a first time member of the Jazz Orchestra. “I like how in Jazz Orchestra, it’s really open ended,” Dally said “we have to improvise.” When comparing the differences of the two ensembles, Dally emphasized the camaraderie between the members of the Jazz Orchestra felt greater.

 Although the energy is high and the ensemble members are jamming out along with the score, the rehearsal remains focused. Sophomore cellist, Ryan Toulouse said, “Doug keeps very on task.” Toulouse went on to say that the rehearsal process is different in feeling. Unlike the acoustic strings in Symphonic Orchestra, the string section of the Jazz Orchestra is microphoned. “It feels like they have more power,” he said.

Focusing on the nostalgia of the 1970s and 1980s, the setlist of the concert has strong emotional ties for many of the ensemble members. Sophomore baritone saxophone player, Matthew Bowker, said that his favorite song from the setlist is “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel. “My mom and I listen to it all the time,” he said. “It really hits home.” 

The upcoming concert is only the first of the season for the Sonoma State University Jazz Orchestra. There will be two more Jazz Orchestra concerts this semester on Thursday, Oct. 18 and Friday, Dec. 7 in Weill Hall.

Sonoma State University Jazz Orchestra’s Rock, Strings & Horns - A Concert For Violet is Friday, Sept. 21 in Weill Hall. Tickets are $8 for the community and free for Sonoma State students.