Toes tapping, heads bopping and thighs slapping, 23 young Vanier College musicians are got into the groove for one of the biggest performances of their fledgling careers at the International Jazz Festival.
The Vanier College Big Band lit up the Rio Tinto Stage on Thursday with classics like Summer Wind and Fly me to the Moon, but the renditions were anything but ordinary.
“[Improvisations] are the hardest part,” said tenor sax player, Alessio Bolusi. “But when you get something, it’s so worth it.” Thursday’s show was the most prestigious that the 19-year-old, who plans on continuing his musical education after Vanier at McGill or Concordia Universities, had played thus far.
This was the second time at the festival for 18-year-old bassist Matthew McCormack, who also played with his high school. “It’s education,” he explained. “We’re all just trying to improve and at the end of the day it’s how the show goes.” McCormack is planning on studying music at Université de Montréal.
There are always nerves before a show, but the musicians maintain that it’s all about balancing the stress and excitement, and also to “just stop talking” before getting on stage and focus.
Focus is necessary for a piece like Willow Weep for Me. “It’s really intimate,” explained McCormack. “I can really hear everyone.”
For Bolusi the piece is more emotionally connected. “You’re not just playing what’s on the paper.”
Leading musicians of the future is old hand for conductor Jocelyn Couture, who has taught music at Vanier for close to 20 years. The trumpet player performs at the festival about 15 times a year, and the Vanier Big Band usually participates every other year.
“Every group is different,” said Couture. “It’s never boring . . . it’s about the kids and always having new ideas. Music is like that, it’s never finished.”
He tries to select a repertoire of varying styles that the group works on throughout the year. While it may seem like it would be dull to practice the same pieces over and over, that’s where the magic happens.
“Intensity comes with the ease of the tune,” he explained, and Bolusi and McCormack agree.
“It’s about consistency,” said Bolusi. Once the musicians know a number inside and out, the creativity, intensity and improvisations that jazz music is all about can really come through.