First Friday Jazz concert series ends year on festive note

CHRISTMAS JAZZ—Vanessa Castaneda sings “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in company with the ELAC Jazz Band at the First Friday Jazz Series Dec. 5 at the S2 Recital Hall. CN/JULIANNE OBREGON

By Sergio Berrueta

The East Los Angeles College Jazz Band rocked the final First Friday Jazz Concert of the season with an eclectic mix of big band jazz numbers and classic Christmas standards  Friday at the S2 Recital Hall.

Led by Music Department chair Robert Dawson, the band delighted the crowd in the midst of the chilly weather.

The concert kicked off with the Christmas classic “Sleigh Ride.” It was a high-sounding arrangement of modern jazz stylings with playful moments between the brass section and saxes.

During this number, the song dipped into big band swing stylings with the trombone section making them shine.

Other Christmas classics came later in the show to remind those that Christmas was in full bloom.

Alfredo Valdez thrilled with a beautiful rendition of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” on his tenor sax.

Valdez swooned the crowd with the sleepy and calm sound with the band accompanying him every step of the way to a small high-flown bridge midway.

It displayed the best of the band by sticking with the dreamy sounds of the Nat King Cole original.

In “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” the normally somber song became faster with rock undertones while keeping with the big band theme.

Guitarist Giovanni Espico came into the spotlight with a solo that  fit in with Van Halen rather than Christmas carols filled with trills and a wide array of chords.

The reworked arrangement gave the song a new vibrant feel rather than stick to the original.

The band also worked alongside ELAC alumna Vanessa Castaneda for two Christmas classics.

Castaneda was originally part of the Applied Music Program that pays for music majors to take one-on-one lessons and sessions with experienced musicians.

The program also helps them to be well-rounded in the music field to begin their career within it.

Castaneda’s stunning voice was brought out in “Christmas Waltz” with the band providing a light and breezy accompaniment to compliment her mezzo-soprano.

Castaneda sang the classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that brought the S2 Recital Hall to a standstill.

The song delivered a heartbreakingly beautiful performance with Castaneda dazzling.

Her vocals gave the song a lovelorn sadness to the piece with powerful prowess throughout.

Trombonist Tom Rocci came into the spotlight during the bridge to continue the lovelorn tone with a delightful solo.

Despite the myriad of Christmas tunes, jazz still dominated the night to give a send-off till next semester.

ELAC Professor and trumpeter Robert “Bobby” Chavez led the band in a cover of the Frank Sinatra version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Chavez’s vocals fit perfectly well with the band’s big band accompaniment with a voice reminiscent of a laidback lounge singer.

The band got into a funk mood on “Psycho Funk” with trombonist Mike Julian bringing the funk on a satisfying trombone solo.

Espico’s guitar solo gave the tune the sound of the ‘70s with hints of Parliament in each chord.

The tenor sax shined nicely on the thrilling “Ecaroh” and “No Lava.” Tenor sax players Valdez and Roy Aguila played to each other’s strength on each of the tunes.

On “Ecaroh,” Valdez led on with an exciting solo of high and lows that allowed Aguila to follow suit on his own solo that was on par with Valdez.

With “No Lava,” the two engaged in a duel of the tenors in this arrangement of Al Jolson’s “Avalon” played entirely backwards by the band.

The tenors dominated the bombastic tune with Valdez beginning his solo with a fast-tempo and making quick work with his hands running rampant on the sax’s body.

Aguila proceeded to one-up Valdez’s solo with playful improvisation to stand out among the band.

Valdez appeared halfway during Aguila’s solo to engage in a musical clash of notes before uniting together by the song’s end.

The band got sentimental on arrangements “Time After Time” and “Fool on the Hill.”

“Time After Time” delivered an upbeat and simple sound with Chavez providing a short and sweet solo with the band adding to the sweetness.

On “Fool on the Hill,” the band amazed the crowd with a rare arrangement by Count Basie of The Beatles’ tune.

It stuck to the tone of the original at the beginning, complete with Roy Aguila switching to the flute to give a taste of the former version.

As it proceeded, the brass sections led it to become a louder and more playful version with trumpeter Juan Gamez standing out on a trumpet solo.

The arrangement delighted, bringing the loud style of the other songs of the evening while also giving the sober hints of other performances.

As the concert came to a close, Chavez returned to the forefront to leave the audience in a sing-along of Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.”

With a Latin jazz style with remnants of funk, Chavez gave an amazing trumpet solo while the band celebrated with nothing but pure delight.

The audience helped sing-along under Chavez’s direction and at the end of the concert gave a standing ovation impressed by the entire concert.

The First Friday Jazz Concert series is held every first Friday of the month in the S2 Recital Hall.

The concert series will return on March 6 with the LA  Mambo Orchestra.

JAZZ THE NIGHT AWAY—The ELAC Jazz Band performed “Psycho Funk” during the last First Friday Jazz Series of the season Dec. 5 at the S2 Recital Hall. CN/JULIANNE OBREGON

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