Alumni Jazz Band Brings Down the House

Photos from the Jazz Alumni reunion concert held Saturday, Feb. 28, at SMCM. An estimated 800 music fans attended the show.

ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. (March 6, 2009) - Students and alumni rocked the gym at St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM) last Saturday during the jazz concert reunion. About 800 students, faculty, staff, and community members attended the jazz concert, which consisted of original jazz band director Bob Levy, current jazz band director Don Stapleson and about 30 of his students, as well as about 40 alumni who attended SMCM as far back as the 1970s.

The program was divided into three sections, with current St. Mary's College jazz band members playing first under the direction of Stapleson. After a dramatic dimming of the lights, "The 2009 Reunion Band" vest-clad alumni played second under Levy, and a fusion of the two groups played to standing ovations at the end of the program. Musical selections included Steve Winwood's "Gimme Some Lovin'," Phil Burlin's "South of the Border," and Count Baise's "Easin' It." The grand finale featured both current and alumni bands, rocking to the Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues." The alumni band performed SMCM alum Greg Boyer's piece, "Faklmept," in which he was also the featured player. Boyer is currently the arranger and trombone player for the pop icon, singer Prince.

"We join together tonight because of our continual bond with one another," said Levy. "And our continuing passion for the one thing everyone on stage shares tonight: a passion for the original American art form-jazz."

The first student jazz ensemble concert under the direction of Bob Levy was performed at St. Mary's College in 1971, introducing jazz to the campus. Eleven SMCM students were joined by two high school band directors, a retired captain from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, several players from the community, and a few high school students. From a two-man music faculty, the program grew to five full-time teachers, eight to 10 part-time teachers, 80 music majors, a 48-member wind ensemble, several choirs, and a jazz and percussion ensemble with a full music curriculum.

The 1970s SMCM jazz ensemble was featured twice at the Glassboro, New Jersey, and Wichita, Kansas, jazz festivals and performed for the national conferences of the College Band Directors National Association at the University of Maryland and for the National Association for Jazz Educators in Daytona Beach, Florida. In addition, a number of internationally known jazz performers were featured soloists on campus in the 1970s with the jazz ensemble. Among them were Clark Terry, Bill Watrous, Jaki Byard, Lou Marini, Chris Woods, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Butch Miles.

Dr. Renwick Jackson, Jr., president of SMCM from 1969-1982, spoke at the concert, saying, "St. Mary's College was and is a place of dreams….Bob Levy's a lover. He loves people for themselves, and he believes that when we love, that's when we dream and achieve fulfillment."

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