Last Thursday, Nov. 17, University of Maine Jazz Ensemble held a concert at Minsky Hall. UMaine alumnus David Demsey, who graduated in 1977, was the guest artist of the evening.
Directed by Jack Burt, the jazz ensemble is comprised of 21 students. Among them, six are pursuing degrees outside of the School of Performing Arts.
More than 120 people attended the evening concert last Thursday. The concert started off with Bill Holman’s arrangement of “After You’ve Gone” by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton. The audience then drifted into a romantic atmosphere with Bill Russo’s arrangement of “Over the Rainbow.”
“This version is just gorgeous, there’s nothing else to say,” Burt told the audience. Music education and performance student Amanda Bloss performed a solo on trombone.
This was the final concert of the year for music education student Nick Turner, who is joining the U.S. Marine Corps. Turner performed a trumpet solo in Sammy Nestico’s arrangement of “I Remember Clifford” by Benny Golson. This ballad was written in memory of an American jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown, who was killed in a car crash in June 1956 along with pianist Richie Powell.
“He [Brown] is my favorite trumpet player, therefore the greatest trumpet player of all time,” Burt said.
This tender ballad translated its sentimental value by maintaining a powerful yet intricate sound of the trumpet.
David Demsey led the second act of the concert. He directed the band, as well as performing saxophone solos in Phil Woods’ “Randi” and Quincy Jones’ “Quintessence,” arranged by Thad Jones and Sammy Nestico.
Demsey is a professor of music and coordinator of jazz studies at William Paterson University.
He earned his doctorate at the Eastman School of Music and received a Master of Music in Saxophone from the Juilliard School. Demsey has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Kirov Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. He is also a contributing editor for Saxophone Journal and Jazz Player Magazine.
Demsey was a student of late Don Stratton, who passed away in April of this year. Stratton taught music theory and composition at UMaine. He founded UMaine’s jazz band in 1972. Almost every song in the repertoire seemed to coincide with Demsey’s journey through his life as a musician and an educator.
The jazz ensemble performed three pieces written by jazz trumpeter Thad Jones. Demsey was first introduced to Thad Jones’ work through Stratton. Thad Jones was the founder of the jazz program at William Patterson University, which is where Demsey teaches now.
“This has been an amazing experience coming back here,” Demsey said.
Demsey met his wife Karen at UMaine in 1973. Both of them were in the marching band, where they became good friends.
“We were dating other people, both of us. It wasn’t ‘till we left that we actually got together. We were best friends,” Demsey said. David and Karen Demsey have been married since 1980.
The jazz ensemble rehearsed with Demsey only once before the concert. Despite that, their confident sound made the audience sway in their seats, nod their heads to the music and stomp their feet to the beat. Thad Jones’ “Us” was the last piece in the repertoire, after which the audience gave standing ovations to the musicians.
“The band was the best I’ve ever heard,” Jay Bregman, who teaches History of Jazz at UMaine, said. “Their time was better than it’s ever been. They kept their beat exact and with a good feeling at the same time.”
“These folks play really well, and I don’t mean really well for Maine, I mean really well,” Demsey said.
“Sometimes when you’re up in Maine, you lose confidence, that yes, you may be doing very well here, at the University of Maine, but when you go to New York or Boston, you think ‘I’m gonna get swallowed up, I’m not good enough.’ That’s not true. Good here is good anywhere.”