Duquesne Jazz Ensemble takes a professional lesson from The Beatles


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This is more than just a day in the life — especially for members of the Jazz Ensemble at Duquesne University.

It’s “The Music of the Beatles” in the Power Center Ballroom at Duquesne’s Chatham Square, a chance for the students to perform — and for you to enjoy — an evening of songs from the act you’ve known for all these years.

Fifty years, as you might know, since the iconic British pop group’s arrival in America.

But this evening’s concert is not just an opportunity to get back to yesterday. It’s a chance to come together for a learning experience.

“It’s not necessarily about The Beatles specifically,” said Steve Groves, manager of musical events at Duquesne’s Mary Pappert School of Music. “It’s about the commercial aspect of playing as a professional musician. Learning how to adapt music that’s a staple in the popular culture so much as The Beatles.

“This gives the students the opportunity to play that music in front of people. Music that people relate to, music that they know.”

The program of 22 Beatles songs has been put together by Mike Tomaro, director of Duquesne’s jazz department, who arranged all the music except “She’s Leaving Home” (arranged by Dave Budway) and “Norwegian Wood” (arranged by Herbie Hancock).

Mr. Groves said the Jazz Ensemble is made up of 18 students, ranging from freshmen to graduate students — five trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, a piano, drums, a bass and a guitar. The guest vocalists include students and members of the faculty. (As well as members of the audience who take part in the sing-a-longs.)

“Our ensembles comprise, I would say, 60-ish concerts per academic school year,” Mr. Groves said. “That ranges from small jazz guitar ensembles up to and including our symphony orchestra.

“This is the second year for ‘The Music of The Beatles.’ Last year we had it at the Dr. Thomas D. Pappert Center for Performance & Innovation in our music school and we pretty much over-sold the room. I’d say there were 175 people pretty packed in. And this year, because of the anniversary, there’s even more interest.”

So the event has been moved to the Power Center Ballroom, which can accommodate closer to 500.

Mr. Tomaro, however, has tinkered a bit with the set list. (As if you could possibly go wrong with a Beatles set list.) And even though it’s the Jazz Ensemble playing, it won’t be jazz.

“It’s not jazz in the standard format,” Mr. Groves said. “[Mr. Tomaro’s] intent with this is to teach the commercial element [of popular music] using a jazz band as the conveyor of that music. He’s transcribed the original Beatles recordings of the rhythm section and then added horn parts to it. There might be some elements of the same show [as last year], some different arrangements and there’s definitely more to it and some newer things as well.”

The lead trumpet player for you tonight is J.D. Chaisson, 24, a graduate student from Shady Side.

“I play all the high notes and I have a solo on ‘Day Tripper,’” said Mr. Chaisson, who also was part of last year’s ensemble. “It’s a great experience to play that type of music. The Beatles are commercial music, and we spend most of our time in college playing jazz and traditional classical music.

“The Beatles’ music is interesting because it’s the music from our parents’ generation. We have exposure to it, but we’re not as familiar with it as the older generations are. But it’s the music we’ll be playing after we graduate because that’s part of the majority of the work we’ll be doing.

“Jazz is definitely my favorite kind of music, but it isn’t as popular as it was in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The Beatles started the popular movement away from jazz, and it’s nice to be exposed to the music and to be able to play that music.

“It’s definitely more fun. And it’s closer to the popular music of today that my generation likes and appreciates. I can connect with it more than I can with some of the jazz.”

You can be part of the lovely audience at the Power Center Ballroom on Forbes Avenue at Chatham Square tonight at 7:30. Admission is $10.

Messers G. and T. assure the public their production will be second to none. Don’t be late. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Sit back and let the evening go.

Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com.


First Published February 20, 2014 4:14 PM

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