“What are we playing?”
“I don’t know, man.”
The first words spoken as the musicians took the stage set the comedic tone for the rest of the night. Four jazz musicians came together Sept. 12 in the Shipley Recital Hall to entertain their audience free of charge.
Dr. Kurtis Adams led the group on the saxophone along with Dr. Mark Andrew Cook on the piano, David W. Marsh III on bass, and Ronnie Shaw on the drums. Adams, an award winning jazz composer, saxophonist and Director of Jazz Studies at Shepherd University, composed most of the pieces the group played. Dr. Cook is also a professor at Shepherd and serves as Director of Music Theory and Composition.
The opening number, a moody take on the blues entitled “Odd Hours”, Adams comically said, “I wrote when I was just keeping a weird schedule.”
Next they played another tune arranged by Adams, “Blue Fox,” which also happens to be the opening track on Adams’ brand new album, “Collage.” This “quirky whole-tone blues” featured impressive solos from all four members of the group. Next they slowed the night down a little bit with “The Invincible Man.” The fourth number, “Without a Song,” by Vincent Youmans was the one of only two songs of the night not composed by Adams. This tune also featured solos from all members.
Next up was a crowd favorite, “Bye Starlight.” The intro was a remarkable, extended piano solo.
After the song, Adams explained to the audience that at rehearsal, he simply told Cook, “Hey man, just do your thing in the beginning.”
Cook joked, “Be careful what you wish for!”
The on stage banter went on throughout the performance, keeping the mood light and the audience laughing. The fifth tune, “Arrhythmia,” picked up the pace. It was another piece that really stood out.
Adams’ “take on rhythm changes” inspired Marsh so much that he started banging on his bass, making a beat along with the drums and instantly becoming a favorite tune of the night. Adams introduced the final song, “Cedar’s Blues,” by Cedar Walton, as a tribute to the many inspirational pianists who have passed this year.
In the past couple of years, Cook’s works have been selected for performance at the Mid-Atlantic Chapter Conference of the College Music Society and the National Convention of the Society of Composers. David Marsh, a long time acoustic bass, electric guitar and bass professor at George Washington University, has played at Blues Alley, the Kennedy Center, Constitution Hall and the White House, to name a few.
Marsh currently teaches at Mitchellville Community School of the Arts in Bowie, Md. Ronnie Shaw, a Jacksonville, Fla. native, entered the United States Air Force and played in their band for 24 years. He has since retired, and currently teaches percussion and drum set at Landon School in Bethesda, Md. The combination of these four incredibly talented, experienced artists produced quite a show.
Shepherd students and music education majors, Lacy Guyton and Sierra Speight shared their thoughts after the show. After commenting on the beauty of “The Invincible Man” and “all out craziness” of “Arrhythmia,” the two talked about the experience of watching their professors perform.
“It really is inspiring because I want to do that. I want to be able to be that teacher. It’s great to see them play and to see how much they love what they do,” said Speight.
“You see them in class every day and you talk to them and then you see them on stage and you’re like ‘wow’. It’s a whole other level, it’s an honor,” said Guyton.