by Michael Chipman

The Oberlin Jazz Ensemble and Oberlin Jazz Septet have released a CD featuring student and faculty performances of original compositions, and arrangements for big band and small ensemble. The recording was primarily an educational endeavor for the students in Oberlin's Jazz Studies program.

"I think it's important for every aspiring performer to have the experience of recording in a professional studio during the undergraduate years," said Wendell Logan, chair of the jazz studies department. "When you have the microphone in front of you, knowing that what you are about to perform will be for posterity, there's a lot of anxiety involved. We created this recording project so that our students could gain vital studio experience."

(IMG: CD Cover)

The students did more than overcome their anxiety, according to Peter Dominguez, associate professor of jazz studies and co-director of the Oberlin Jazz Septet. "I receive CDs from jazz programs all over the country every year - schools like Western Michigan and North Texas State who have graduate students playing in their ensembles - and our undergraduate students match any of them," said Dominguez.

Plans for this recording project began a year ago when Logan put it on the table in a faculty meeting. The jazz faculty requested tapes of original compositions or arrangements from small ensembles, and after reviewing several submitted tapes, Dominguez and the jazz faculty chose five ensembles and the Oberlin Jazz Septet - a select group of faculty nominated musicians - for the recording project.

On May 5, 1998, the faculty and students traveled to the SUMA recording studios in Painesville, Ohio, and after several hours and repeated takes, came away with about an hour and twenty minutes of music on digital audio tape. The Oberlin Jazz Septet mixed several tunes at SUMA in July, then Dominguez, Logan and others in the jazz faculty chose the most polished performances for the CD.

"The Oberlin Jazz Septet gave the best performances at the studio," said Dominguez who codirects the septet with Neal Creque, teacher of jazz piano. "Performing in a studio is more difficult and complex than a live performance, especially for jazz musicians. So much of jazz is improvised, but within that improvisation, the intonation, rhythm and creativity in solo passages has to be precise and fresh every time. After three takes of the same piece, the creative edge can sometimes wear down. Despite all that, our students pulled off a very professional recording."

Dominguez had a difficult time pinpointing a favorite piece on the album. "I really love Wendell Logan's "Afro-Blue;" the ensemble is flawless and his piece has a great mood. The Muhal Richard Abrams' piece "Fanfare III" also feels so connected. The OJS's performance of "Cascade" is just too short; the rhythm gets going and feels so good and then it's over. I also love the darkness of Neal Creque's "Serendipity," and senior Kevin Louis's beautiful ballad "For Sundown and Poppie." All the pieces have different vibes and fill different needs, but there is a lot of good playing all around."

The cover art on the album was created by Ellen Butters, a fifth-year double-degree student from Bethesda, Md. Logan asked Butters to design the album cover because he was familiar with her work, and because he wanted this to be completely a student project. The recording was funded largely by Oberlin alumnus Robert Lafeld '60.

"I hope we can do more recording projects like this in the future," said Logan. "Everyone who participated in it will be able to look back proudly on the experience."


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