The duel between Azusa Pacific University and Citrus College wasn’t for musical supremacy, rather, the night was a showcase of the talented student jazz musicians this community has to offer.
The 13th rendition of the Battle of The Big Bands between the APU Jazz Ensemble and Citrus’ Blue Note Orchestra took place on March 17 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center.
The stage was split down the middle, with two adjacent baby grand pianos centered on the stage floor and two drum kits sharing one area above and behind. To the right, the Blue Note Orchestra donned white coats and on the left, the APU Jazz Ensemble wore black coats.
Big band swing, born in the Golden Age and an essential segment to the evolution of jazz, was the theme of the night, but the bands showcased a multitude of jazz genres including Dixieland, combo jazz, jazz vocalist accompaniments and Latin jazz.
The big bands, at the ready with instruments locked and loaded, were equally comprised of five musicians in the rhythm section, four woodwind players and eight brass players.
The program began with the two ensembles playing together. Not simultaneously, but in a seamless and well-arranged manner that introduced their respective group talents.
As each group started playing individually, the jazz musicians flourished with improvisational solos, a core skill for every jazz musician.
As they traded off songs and the spotlight, the music was swinging and the audience acknowledged every soloist.
Dave Beatty, APU Jazz Ensemble director, and Gino Munoz, Blue Note Orchestra director, shared antics on stage between songs while proudly introducing and acknowledging their performances.
In a tribute to the famed big band composers and musicians, the Dorsey brothers, APU alto saxophonist Joe Di Fiore moved his fingers fervently up and down his sax to create musical runs as if he was Jimmy Dorsey himself. While Blue Note jazz musician Robert Verdugo’s smooth serenade on trombone could have been Tommy reincarnated.
The second act began with a special appearance by APU graduate and now Citrus College instructor Richard Carey, who fittingly wore a coat split black-and-white, signifying his hand in both bands. His “Concerto for Trumpet” was a magnificent display of range, improvisational skill and poise.
APU’s vocal jazz ensemble also made an appearance in accompaniment with APU’s jazz ensemble performing the number, “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me.”
The night was American as baseball as APU’s band broke out into “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” as directors Beatty and Munoz threw on their Dodgers hats and asked the crowd to sing along. Before long, the act became clear as a video montage paid tribute to long-time Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully.
The closing number, a jazz standard familiar to many, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” by Blue Note Orchestra was intertwined with APU’s “Sing, Sang, Sung,” a re-imagining of the original.
And just as they began, the two battling bands finished in the same manner, together as one as both groups received a standing ovation from the audience.
The Battle of the Big Bands has one more performance at 7 p.m. on March 18 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased at box office or online for $25. Students and senior prices discounted.