Jazz ensembles celebrate 100th birthday of jazz innovators

Story by Jennifer Clary

This October, two of the biggest names in jazz will turn 100. Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, born 10 days apart, will be remembered with a performance by Colorado State University’s jazz ensembles on Thursday, Sept. 28.

“Dizzy and Monk are two of the fathers of modern jazz,” said Peter Sommer, coordinator of jazz studies and director of jazz bands.

Gillespie was born on Oct. 21, 1917, in Cheraw, South Carolina. He taught himself to play the trumpet and trombone. He played in a variety of bands in the 1930s and ’40s before creating his own jazz ensemble.

Monk was born on Oct. 10 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He went on to learn piano and play at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City.

“It’s great music in the tradition of bebop music and modern jazz,” Sommer said.

Both Gillespie’s and Monk’s music have presented some unique challenges.

“Dizzy always had some charts that were really fast,” Sommer said. “We’re playing one of those called ‘Things to Come.’ It’s usually played as fast as you can play, and then you tried to play a little faster than that.”

Additionally, Sommer said that Gillespie’s pieces require a high-power trumpet section.

Likewise, Monk “wrote a lot of melodies that were a little quirky due to their rhythmic content and melodic and harmonic content,” Sommer said. “We are playing a tune of Monk’s called ‘Evidence,’ and that has a lot of really precise and unexpected syncopations, which are like off-beat rhythms, that have to be played really precisely, but they don’t always fall where you expect them to fall. It requires really strong rhythmic skills from the students.”

So far, Sommer believes his students are rising to the challenge.

“I’m excited because the students are doing a great job and it’s the first concert of the semester, and they’re really playing great,” Sommer said.

Sommer’s Jazz Ensemble I will be preceded by Special Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies Wil Swindler’s Jazz Ensemble II band to create an immersive and in-depth jazz experience.

The Jazz Ensembles Concert will take place Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Griffin Concert Hall, located at The University Center for the Arts. Tickets are available at csuartstickets.com.