APU sounds off with jazz debut

[Melanie Gudino]Azusa Pacific University's Jazz Ensemble went toe to toe with the Citrus College Blue Note Ensemble in the tenth Battle of the Big Bands March 15.

[Melanie Gudino] Azusa Pacific University’s Jazz Ensemble went toe to toe with the Citrus College Blue Note Ensemble in the tenth Battle of the Big Bands March 15.

Friday night’s Battle of the Big Bands hosted in the Haugh Performing Arts Center was not what one might expect from a jazz performance.

The evening began with announcer arriving on the massive roll-down projector screen, wearing a t-shirt, sitting in an arm chair and complaining about the lame gig he’d gotten. He’d been the announcer for the Battle of the Big Bands for ten years, he said, and now the school wouldn’t even pay for him to show up in person.

The bands opened together with “Anything Goes” composed by Cole Porter. The solos switched from one band to the other sending the audience’s heads swinging like they were at a tennis match.

At the end of that number there was no one sleeping in the front row.

Azusa Pacific University first performed “Caravan” composed by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol. The song included phenomenal solos from Joe Di Fiore (Tenor Sax), Nick Gomez (Alto Sax) and Eric Price (Bari Sax). The song and had me picturing some deep city bar where the music is glamorous and lonely and the sax is always hot.

Citrus slowed it down with “Fly Me to the Moon,” accompanied by vocalist Sergio Vellatti. And I’m being completely honest when I say this guy was just oozing charisma.

The next time APU took the mic, they performed a medley of Curtis Lewis’ “Little Unhappy Boy” and “Happy Talk,” a piece by the demigods Rogers and Hammerstein.

APU’s vocalist during that performance was handpicked for the song. Teryn Carter has one of those mellow, understated voices that definitely add to any jazz performance.

And when she started scatting I nearly fell out of my chair.

One stand out performance during the first act was APU’s “Hunting Wabbits.” An announcer warned, “This portion of the show contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing, even repulsive. Viewer discretion is advised.”

The screen then showed WB’s Merry Melodies. APU’s jazz ensemble played along to scenes of Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck getting into his usual shenanigans.

Both bands joined once again to bring us back from the intermission. APU’s vocalist, David Manuel, was wearing a white tuxedo, coattails and all. He spun onto to stage and slid around to the whoops and catcalls from the audience, as he told the tale of “Minnie the Moocher.”

Sophie Gonzales, Citrus’ vocalist came back kicking her feet and flipping her hair. Both singers sang out and the bands sang right back, growling, yelling and scatting.

Tenor soloists Joe Di Fiore, from APU, and Raul Arguiniga, from Citrus, each gave solos. They played notes so quickly that they were practically on top of each other and reached high notes that had the jazz aficionados sitting in front of me smirking smugly at each other.

The swinging jazz number only ended with David Manuel held a baritone note so low and for so long that Sophie Gonzales announced offhandedly, “OK. You win.”

Afterwards, APU’s jazz ensemble performed a piece called “I Have a Feeling I’ve Been Here Before.”

Mike Briones played fiery trombone solo, with quick trills and long holds that had me awed at his lung capacity. The words “how is that even possible?” came to mind.

The bands combined their talents once more for the final song. APU’s soloists were Joe Di Fiore (tenor sax), Lance Beckford and Jens Kuross on drums and percussion.

The lights turned back on and the energy was still high. We lingered in our seats—until the announcer appeared on the screen once more and shooed us away.