Sunday, October 20, 2013


Alto saxophonist Antonio Hart
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, which may explain the low attendance for the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra's concert at the St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Detroit. The orchestra was directed by Detroit bassist Rodney Whitaker, who runs the MSU’s Jazz Studies department. The concert was the last stop of a four city tour sponsored by the Michigan State Federal Credit Union, which recently gave the department a million dollar grant.

The grant will be used for the department's artist-in-residence program. Whitaker said the acclaimed jazz musicians will be brought in for a week long residency that includes a tour with MSU's jazz orchestra throughout Michigan. 

First up was alto saxophonist Antonio Hart. Hart, 45, a native of Baltimore, has cut a bunch of excellent albums such as “Here I Stand” and “Its All Good”. His sound is a mix of bop, swing and the blues. There’s a spiritual quality to the way he plays a ballad. To date, some of his best blowing has been with the Dave Holland Big Band.

As the artist-in-residence, Hart taught a series of master classes and performed with the MSU Jazz Orchestra in Lansing, Byron Center, Holland, and Detroit. Trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Jeff Hamilton are coming in December. Next year, Whitaker is looking to bring in Christian McBride, Sean Jones, and Robert Glasper.

The diehard jazz fans that showed up despite the lousy weather were treated to an hour plus of swing from one of Michigan’s top college jazz orchestras. The first half of the concert the orchestra performed “A Night in Tunisia, “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me,” and “Groove Merchant”. The second half Hart joined in.  

On Hart’s original “Down and Out,” he grabbed it by the shirt collar and gave it a Sam’s Club size ass kicking. The MSU Jazz Orchestra handled Hart’s music like champions. They swung below sea level and did not come up for air until Hart called the ballad “Stars Fell Over Alabama”.

There was choice soloing from alto saxophonist Jerrick Mathews, trumpeter Walter Andre’ Cano, and bassist Endea Owens. Despite the low attendance, the orchestra played their hearts out. The orchestra's mantra appears to be swing hard whether the house is empty or at capacity.
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