Manhattan College president Brennan O’Donnell traded his lofty office in Memorial Hall for something a little edgier Tuesday night: a seat in the guitar section of the college’s jazz band.
For the audience, the unusual sight of watching their president jamming out (well) on a bass guitar is only where the fun began. The jazz band’s Springtime Jazz performance packed Smith Auditorium with a rowdy standing-room-only crowd that came for the music and stayed for it too.
The hour-long set featured a blend of soulful pieces, funky tracks, standalone solos and a collaboration with student vocalist Aiofe Mahood. The band asserted its overall technical strength in tighter, cleaner pieces while its musicality shined in freewheeling solos that showcased individual talents.
The set started with “Corner Pocket,” an upbeat, brassy piece with strong solos from both the senior tenor saxophone Rich DiPasquale and the freshman trumpet Kevin Donald. Right from the beginning, the band showed the depth of its talent by juxtaposing its most senior leaders and its new recruits.
In a stylistic twist, the band also played “Too Close for Comfort,” featuring the lush vocals of Mahood layered over slowed-down jazz. With neither element overshadowing the other, the band struck a balance between vocals and sound and performed a piece that easily elicited the vibes of speakeasy jazz clubs.
A high point of the night came in Adrienne Perea’s performance of a cadenza during “My One and Only Love,” one that she had written as part of an independent study this semester. The senior and jazz band president performed her solo on her bright red alto saxophone with a backdrop of total silence, lending the audience the perfect opportunity to catch the bars of “Careless Whisperer” she had nestled into her piece.
Later, in the Stevie Wonder arrangement of “Higher Ground,” O’Donnell took to the stage with his bass guitar and joined the band.
“It was a lot of fun,” O’Donnell said. “I love music. I love playing it. It’s a great way to spend some time.”
This might not be the last Manhattan College will see of their president on the bass either.
“There’s talk about my doing something similar as a regular thing,” he said.
Senior drummer Gregory Zajac closed out the show with a solo that belonged in a rock concert and riled up the crowd in the final song of the night, “Sing Sing Sing.”
Members of the band say they were pleased with the group’s performance at the show and the improvement it has shown over the years.
“I think the band did amazing. I feel like this year was the best band ever since I was a freshman. We had a great turnout,” Perea said. “We promoted it by word of mouth, which was great, but I think having President O’Donnell play with us was definitely the cherry on top.”
Perea noted that the band’s growth and musicality is what she’s most proud of.
“[…] What I’ve realized this year is that we have gotten people to solo and improvise, and these people are shy….but we kind of got them out of their shell. And that’s what I like about music. It kind of takes you out of your comfort zone and it’s fun,” she said.
Zajac, another senior member in his final performance with the band, could attest to that same change in the group.
“I mean we have a really dynamite group of musicians, very very eager to learn. They’re all really talented,” he said. “Just like any family, a family grows over time. We become closer. We become more solidified. We become a unit. We become tighter. I’d say over the four years we’ve matured as a band.”