Band director Bob Ratcliff leads the concert band in rehearsal for the middle- and high-school band concert Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. in the MP Room.

Dec. 16 middle- and high-school band concert to feature French jazz, bebop, unusual time signatures

The middle- and high-school band concert is on Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. in the MP Room.

Jazz Band Septet

Under band director Bob Ratcliff’s desk lies a well-worn, tweed suitcase.  

It’s rather unassuming.

But it holds what Ratcliff calls “the cruise-boat book.”

“It (has) everything from old swing standards like ‘Take the A Train’ to ’70s pop songs like ‘Masquerade’ to ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are,’” he said.

Ratcliff’s friend Ron Cunha (the band director at Jesuit High School) and Cunha’s two friends hand-wrote the arrangements while they were in college.  

Later Cunha performed them on cruise ships.

He’s since compiled a book and plays the songs at weddings with Ratcliff and another musician.

“(Ron) has a tendency to lose things,” Ratcliff said. “I borrowed this (book) from him, and he just asked me to hold onto it.

“I figured if I’ve got the music here, I might as well use it.”

And Ratcliff will put the music to use at the Dec. 16 winter concert.

Cruise-ship tunes the jazz band will play include the classic standards “Wave” and “Body and Soul.”

The main “Wave” solo belongs to freshman Alex Rogawksi on the trombone. Senior Colby Conner will also have a piano solo. 

“Body and Soul” is a jazz classic that features freshman Heidi Johnson on the tenor saxophone.  

“It’s become famous in the jazz world because all great tenor saxophonists have done a recording of it at some point,” Ratcliff said.

It all started with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, who performed the song in two progressive ways, according to Ratcliff.

First, Hawkins didn’t state the melody, but played around it. Second, he added extension to the chords.

Coleman’s improvised solo on the famous tune “turned harmony on its ear to a different world,” Ratcliff said.

“It set a precedent for tenor saxophonists.”

Jazz Band Trio

Senior Keaton Ochoa (guitar), sophomore Lily Brown (violin) and eighth-grader Lucas Fishman (acoustic bass) will play in the style of guitarist Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, a French jazz violinist.

The songs they are performing are “essential 1930s French swing-style jazz,” Ratcliff said.

Brown and Ochoa will play the transcription of Grappelli’s improvised solo in “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Playing great musicians’ improvisations note-for-note is one of the ways Ratcliff is trying to improve band members’ solos.

“You learn somebody else’s, and then you steal his ideas,” he said. “I get them to learn solo transcriptions to help develop their sound.

“(Lily’s) learning from Grappelli and Charlie Parker. Hopefully some of that will sink into her playing.”

The “gypsy jazz trio,” as Ratcliff refers to the group, will also play “Caravan,” most associated with jazz musician Duke Ellington.  

The song switches between a Latin beat and a swing beat.

“(The Latin feel) is kind of like this minor chord that has a lot of tension, and the swing feel feels like old-fashioned swing music,” he said.

Ratcliff has yet to hear the group perform “Caravan.”

“I’m very curious to hear how they play it,” he said.

Combined Jazz Band

The entire jazz band will play “Yardbird Suite,” a Charlie Parker tune.

It will feature sophomore Annya Dahmani (flute), sophomore Katia Dahmani (saxophone), Brown (violin) and Conner (piano).

The style of “Yardbird Suite” is bebop.

According to Ratcliff, jazz used to be only for dancing.

“When Charlie Parker (1920-55) came along,” he said, “jazz music became concert music, music to sit and listen to, not necessarily to dance to.”

Musicians would play in big halls for swing dancing and then have jam sessions in smaller venues, which eventually became listening venues, Ratcliff said.

Bebop music is characterized as “technical, fast, virtuosic and complicated.”

Musicians played bebop to challenge themselves. Ratcliff said at this point musicians began to see themselves as artists, not only entertainers.

Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were two of the first bebop artists.  

Bebop is “musicians’ music,” Ratcliff said.

Concert Band

As both the middle- and high-school concert bands are small, Ratcliff has combined them.

The three seventh and eighth graders will join the high schoolers, and the sixth graders will join in for some of the pieces.

Two pieces feature multiple or unusual time signatures.

Gustav Holst wrote a series of pieces, “The Planets,” and the concert band is performing “Mars,” which is written in 5/4 time.

“Forge Ahead” switches between 3/4 time and 4/4 time and features both slow and fast sections.

“Rails West” sounds like a train, Ratcliff said, and features sophomore Theo Kaufman on the trumpet.

The entire concert band will play “December Sky,” which Ratcliff described as a “lyrical slow piece.”

“And To All a Good Night,” a holiday piece, will feature solos from each instrument section.

—By Zoë Bowlus

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