Jazz band gets audience swinging for holiday celebration

by Elizabeth Toy


The East Los Angeles College Jazz Band kindled the spirit of the holiday season at the Jazz Christmas Celebration Friday in the S-2 Recital Hall.

Chair of the Music Department Robert Dawson opened the night with a bold and cheeky rendition of  “Angels We Have Heard on High,” arranged by Ralph Carmichael.

Dawson conducted the jazz band through various songs from the three categories of Christmas music: carols, popular standards and children’s songs, almost all of which he arranged.

The jazz band embraced a big-band style of music as they revisited Christmas classics from a cheerfully swinging “Here Comes Santa Claus” to a smooth jazz rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” featuring Tony Garcia on alto saxophone.

“Here Comes Santa Claus” featured an unexpected electric guitar solo played by Giovanni Verduzco, a jazz guitar major at ELAC.

Conventionally heard as a simple and uncomplicated children’s song, Verduzco added dimension and exhilarating flair to the song while demonstrating his mastery of the guitar.

The band indulged the audience in Dawson’s remarkable arrangement of “My Favorite Things,” one of the highlights of the evening.

The band showcased their incredible skills in playing to the complex tempo of the song.

“In music, we have two-four, three-four and four-four time, but this song is in eleven-four (time signature),” Dawson said.

The particularly smooth and simultaneously rhythmic song had audience members swaying in their seats and tapping their feet to the timeless classic.

Featured vocalist Angela Storey delivered a heartfelt and emotional performance of “Where are you, Christmas?” and also scat sung the bridge of an unconventional, but increasingly rich and progressive arrangement of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Despite the high-caliber performances, Dawson created a comfortable and relaxed ambiance with his down-to-earth personality as he emceed the evening.

In between songs, he divulged personal anecdotes to the audience and shared the history behind some of the music, striking a chord with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as he recounted the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

By the end of the evening’s performances, the jazz band received a standing ovation with several requests for encores.

Audience members were reluctant to leave the theater.

They remained seated, with several audibly wondering, “It’s already over?”

Dawson and the jazz band members took time to meet and greet admiring listeners after the show.

The performance was the last of the season, but First Fridays Jazz will commence again in the spring semester of 2016.

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