Stand Up and Be Heard!

It’s no secret that year after year, Western stops at nothing to showcase the best jazz artists as featured performers for the university’s annual jazz festival. The 16th Jazz Fest, which ran from April 28 through 30, 2011, was no exception.

Internationally acclaimed tenor saxophone player Benny Golson performed with the WCSU Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Assistant Professor of Music Jamie Begian on April 29, in Ives Concert Hall in White Hall on the university’s Midtown campus.

Following two WCSU student ensembles, Darcy James Argue’s celebrated 18-piece big band, Secret Society, was featured in concert on April 30.

A native of Philadelphia, Golson has played in the bands of Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Earl Bostic and Art Blakey. A performer who is said to “blow audiences away,” the 82-year-old musician has performed in the United States, Europe, South America, the Far East and Japan for decades.

Golson received a Mellon Jazz Living Legacy Award in 2007 and a Recording Academy “Salute to Jazz Honors Giants of the Genre” in 2005, as well as numerous Grammy nominations.

Bob McCullough of the Boston Globe wrote, “Virtually every solo by Golson is a textbook tour de force.” John S. Wilson, jazz critic for the New York Times, agrees. “I have known Benny Golson as one of the most complete musicians of the past 25 years. He is a composer with an unusually brilliant melodic sense.”

Critics are similarly impressed with Darcy James Argue, crediting him with developing “a nearly perfect creative synthesis between tradition and innovation” (John Eyles, BBC.com). Argue’s compositions were described as “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” by Juan Rodriguez, of the Montreal Gazette; and Ben Ratliff of the New York Times noted his “big, broad musical vocabulary.” Time Out New York’s Hank Shteamer added, “Argue draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music” in a way that “handily transcends pastiche.”

A lot of the buzz was generated by Argue’s Grammy-nominated debut recording, “Infernal Machines,” featuring his 18-piece big band, Secret Society. The record was included on more than 100 best-of-the year lists and won Best Debut honors in the 2009 Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll. Argue and Secret Society topped three categories in the 2010 DownBeat Critics’ Poll (Rising Star, Big Band; Rising Star, Composer; and Rising Star, Arranger) and were the recipients of two 2010 Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards (Large Ensemble of the Year and Up & Coming Artist of the Year). The group has played high-profile concerts in New York and other U.S. cities, as well as in Europe.

A former member of the Montreal jazz scene, Vancouver native Argue moved to Brooklyn in 2003 after earning a master’s degree in Boston while studying with legendary composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer. Among the awards he has received are the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop Charlie Parker Composition Prize and the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award. Argue has received grants from the Jerome Foundation, the American Music Center, Meet The Composer, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Since 1995, the WCSU Jazz Fest has brought leading jazz artists to Danbury each spring for a three-day program that combines concert performances with a series of music clinics offering master-class instruction and critiques for music students at Western and at schools in the Greater Danbury area. Golson and Argue joined professional jazz artists who hold full-time and adjunct faculty positions in the WCSU music department to conduct performance clinics during the festival.

“Having these great guest artists, one an acknowledged jazz legend and the other a rising star, ‘up close and personal’ provides our students an invaluable insight into the expectations of what a professional musician is and does,” Begian said. “The energy level leading up to the festival is sky-high, and I’m always proud of how our students rise to the occasion and demonstrate the quality of the program here at WestConn.”

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Clockwise from top:
Darcy James Argue conducts the 18-piece big band, Secret Society, during the 1th annual Jazz Fest.

Benny Golson displays his virtuosity on the tenor saxophone, also at the Jazz Fest.

(l-r): WCSU music faculty Chris Morrison and Peter Tomlinson conduct a jazz clinic for music students.