Whitman’s Jazz Ensemble takes audience on musical journey in fall recital

Charlie Hunter, Campus Life Reporter

Do you like jazz? The Whitman College Department of Music held their jazz concert on Nov. 12 in Chism Hall. Doors opened at 6:30 p.m. for students, friends and faculty who braved the cold and took their seats.

Jazz and music have always been central to Whitman’s identity. However, throughout the pandemic, the program, like many others, lost some numbers. Taking the stage with a full band was something the band members and directors were proud of. Director of the Wind Ensemble and Jazz Ensemble II Gary Gemberling spoke on the program’s success in rebounding after the pandemic.

“I’m proud to be on stage with all the musicians. They have invested a great deal of time and energy preparing difficult music,” Gemberling said. “The Wind Ensemble, in particular, has been challenged as the personnel numbers declined significantly during the pandemic. All the music groups took a hit, and we are all working hard in rebuilding our programs to the pre-pandemic numbers.”

Jazz saxophone player Jonah Panzer* spoke on the matter as well, expressing his excitement in playing with a full-size band this year.

“I’m looking forward to performing with a, pretty much, full brass section. There’s a really good atmosphere and chemistry in the band this year, and I’m excited to perform with everyone,” Panzer said.

A member of Jazz Ensemble I, Panzer had solos on songs “Closer Than You Think” and a crowd favorite “My Song” by H.E.R. The band put their own twist on the contemporary R&B song, complete with impressive vocals from Marina Balasanyan.

Having fun and putting their own twist on jazz standards was something that the jazz bands and Wind Ensemble did with great success during the concert. Jazz II opened with Director Gary Gemberling asking the crowd, “Who’s ready to have some fun?” The band covered Frank Sinatra’s classic “Fly Me To The Moon” before going straight into “Amanda.” The sixties boogaloo dance song was complete with crowd interaction, dancing and impressive solos from guitarist Jeffrey Wu and bassist Johanna Duncan.

Bringing a shade of fun and familiarity to these jazz tunes made jazz an approachable genre to the entire audience. This collection of contemporary hits with a nod to the classics of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins was done masterfully and to great avail. Talking to musicians revealed that this feat was not as easy as it may have seemed.

Saxophone player Alex Lamers spoke on what it means for him to play and perform with the band and the challenges that come with it.

“Each individual grows as a musician in their own right, but the inherently challenging aspect of musicianship is further accentuated when in an ensemble. It’s no longer simply, ‘Am I playing good?’ It’s [also] ‘am I playing good with my section, with other sections and with the blend of the band as a whole?’ It’s really a marvelous thing for a group of people to come together and play music, and I believe our band has grown so much,” Lamers said.

With pride, teamwork and companionship, the band took the stage on Saturday evening and put on a show that truly delivered. Be on the lookout for upcoming concerts this spring.

* Jonah Panzer is a Copy Editor for The Wire.