Jazz and New Orleans are two things that are inseparable — you can’t have one without the other. Well, State College may be 1,185 miles from New Orleans, but Centre Dimensions brought the southern city’s classic music to Happy Valley on Saturday night.
Centre Dimensions is Penn State’s premier 20-piece jazz ensemble. It is a very select group made of the school’s elite jazz players — both undergraduate and graduate students.
Every year, the ensemble performs its annual Mardi Gras concert for an audience in Esber Recital Hall in the Music Building. The music, itself, has the New Orleans feel, but the musicians’ lively performance gave the audience a taste of Mardi Gras.
The stage was decorated in the typical colors of the season, as purple, green and yellow streamers looped high above the audience. Behind the stage hung a background depicting a rendition of a New Orleans street.
When 8 p.m. rolled around, Centre Dimensions was nowhere in sight. Slowly, a soft jazz could be heard playing in the hall and then suddenly the ensemble was dancing down the aisles playing “When the Saints Come Marching In” — a classic Mardi Gras tune. Each member rocked a Venetian masquerade mask and Dan Yoder , Centre Dimensions director, was dressed head-to-toe in the usual Mardi Gras attire.
The musicians played a variety of music from classic jazz artists such as Hank Levy , Quincy Jones and George Gershwin.
The concert, also, featured original compositions written by Yoder. One of them entitled “Right Curves” was dedicated to the ladies of New Orleans, who Yoder said “do such a great job of making Mardi Gras interesting.”
It was not strictly an instrumental concert, and Yoder said he was lucky to have a multi-talented ensemble. Carmen Ebersole , trumpeter, was also gifted with an exceptional singing voice. She sang two melodies for the audience — Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and Nat King Cole’s “Orange-Colored Sky.” Ebersole’s voice was on key with the smooth, clear voice of a classic jazz singer.
The concert gave a chance for the ensemble to spotlight other musicians, as well. Those who were given an opportunity to perform a solo played with such ease and grace. It was obvious how much respect they had for the music.
Jazz music has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, but it gets pushed out by other genres of music at times. The power of jazz is in the soul of those who perform it and what jazz musicians convey in their songs holds a deep history.
Centre Dimensions’ performance was spot on — not a single note was dropped. The performance could be ranked high with the great musicians of jazz, whose music the ensemble played that night.