Nick Samson, '12 (standing) rehearses the tune "Three and One" by Thad Jones with the Cornell Jazz Band. The Song features Samson on the baritone saxophone along with a trumpet and bassist. (Photo used by permission of Samson)
Nick Samson, Richard Whitney still keeping the beat at Cornell, Williams
Last year’s Jazz Band was a prize-winning machine, placing first at the Woodcreek Jazz Festival, second at the Reno Jazz Festival and third at the Folsom Jazz Festival. It also earned a gold award at the Forum Music Festival in Vallejo.
“(The class of 2012) was the right mix of musicians at the right time,” band director Bob Ratcliff said.
So it’s hardly a surprise that both Nick Samson and Richard Whitney have gone on to play music in college.
Samson, who plays the baritone saxophone, and Whitney, a trumpeter, were members of Concert Band and Jazz Band for four years. They were also recognized numerous times as outstanding soloists in competitions.
Samson currently plays in the most selective jazz group at Cornell University—the Jazz Band.
In fact, it was so selective that he initially didn’t make the cut in the first semester.
When Samson auditioned for the music program in August, he had his heart set on the Jazz Band.
Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. He played in the Jazz Ensemble instead.
But he didn’t give up.
And in January he made it. In fact, he was the only freshman accepted.
Samson is still adjusting to the high expectations of his new group. His band members, he said, are very passionate and dedicated to playing jazz, and they play at an almost professional level.
The group spends five hours a week rehearsing, typically working on about seven to 10 songs a rehearsal.
As the least experienced player, Samson has found the music challenging.
He tries to practice 15 minutes to an hour every day whenever he can, and the group practices keep him from returning to his dorm before 7:30 p.m. on most days.
“It requires 100 percent work,” he said.
However, Samson does think Country Day has prepared him well for college-level music.
“From what I’ve seen, not many high schools teach their musicians as much improvisation as Country Day does.”
Samson’s band has had several performances, including one in which the band played a three-hour set for a swing-dancing event that involved learning many songs in a short period of time.
“When I found out I had three weeks to learn 30 tunes, I asked Mr. Ratcliff what he’d do in that situation,” he said.
When asked about whether he plans to continue music throughout college, Samson said, “Even if I didn’t already, it seems like the director thinks I am.”
The director has talked to Samson about working with him for the next three years to make him an even better musician.
And Ratcliff is sure Samson will be just that.
Ratcliff said Samson “has a good sense of groove and a good ear, which when combined with his strong technique, makes him a good player.”
And for now, Samson is planning to major in computer science and minor in music. He is also looking to continue playing in college and beyond.
“You see stories of famous artists who are still playing in their mid-80s and you go, ‘Well there’s no way I can stop now.’ ”
What do “Swiss,” “Perfectly Adequate” and “Which Dickney” have in common? They’re just some of Richard Whitney’s many nicknames in his a cappella group, The Springstreeters, at Williams College.
The Springstreeters is one of nine a cappella group at Williams. It’s an all-male group with 12 members.
Whitney described a cappella, a choir that sings without accompaniment, as a college extracurricular that he has always thought of doing. And it really isn’t all that surprising; after all, he isn’t all that unfamiliar with singing.
For five years Whitney was part of the River City Theatre Company and sang in multiple musicals.
“(A cappella is) a very “college” thing,” Whitney said. “You don’t find it in high school (and) you don’t find it much outside of college.”
After seeing a couple of the group’s performances, Whitney was hooked.
“It just seemed like it’d be a great time (with) lots of fun people, good parties (and) good concerts.”
And Whitney had to audition for the group as well.
“The process is a little bit like rushing a fraternity, except that there’s a lot of singing involved,” he said.
Whitney sings tenor in the group, which practices three times a week for a total of five hours.
Whitney said The Springstreeters, unlike some a cappella groups that would mostly sing songs from the top 40 chart, cover a wide variety of songs. They’ve covered artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Coldplay to Bruno Mars.
In one of their performances posted on YouTube, Whitney stands in front of the microphone, half surrounded by his group members, and solos “Runaround Sue.”
The guys lean in and harmonizes as Richard begins to sing his story of Sue. Throughout the videos, they snap and clap and sway to the rhythm that they’re making on their own. The crowd listening responds with shouts, screams, and cheers throughout the performance..
Whitney is also the assistant music director of the group and arranges a lot of their music, a forté that Whitney had already shown back in high school. He once composed a piece that the Jazz Band played at a concert.
Ratcliff said one of Whitney’s strengths as a musician is that he is a composer.
“There’s a way composers think about music and hear music and see music that’s very different than other musicians.”
Ratcliff said that Whitney’s composition skills allow him to “see the big picture” as he plays.
Ratcliff also praises Whitney’s understanding of different forms of music such as classical, jazz and funk tune.
And Whitney has not given up playing the trumpet, either—at Williams he is also in a jazz ensemble and a jazz combo.
He was accepted into the jazz group after being invited to an audition because of the recordings he submitted along with his college application.
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I’ve got a great, great band and the professor leading it is fantastic.
“We meet once a week for a couple of hours and everyone comes in knowing all their parts, ready to go, and just play really tough music.”
Besides these music groups, Whitney is taking a course on jazz theory and improvisation and considering double majoring in music and either, political science, classics, or English.