Arts concert review

14th Annual Herb Pomeroy Memorial Concert: A moving tribute to MIT’s father of jazz

MIT’s Festival Jazz Ensemble and Alumni Jazz Band perform live at Kresge Auditorium

MIT’s 14th Annual Herb Pomeroy Memorial Concert
Featuring saxophonist-composer Miguel Zenón
MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble & MIT Alumni Jazz Band
Conducted by Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr.
Kresge Auditorium
March 5

Last Saturday, the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and Alumni Jazz Band, with special guest saxophonist Miguel Zenón, came together to perform at the 14th Annual Herb Pomeroy Memorial Concert at Kresge Auditorium. Directed by Dr. Frederick Harris Jr., the performance was a wonderful medley of a diverse variety of songs, featuring Zenón’s incredible vocals and skill on the saxophone. It paid tribute to Herb Pomeroy, who founded the Festival Jazz Ensemble in 1963 and was a major force in the jazz world.

The concert began with a piece entitled “Blue ’N Boogie” composed by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli. Jazzy and upbeat, the melody was carried by the saxophones. The piece was also an opportunity for individual instruments in the ensemble to stand out; there were saxophone, clarinet, keyboard, piano, and percussion solos, each of which contributed a unique element to the piece. After this lively opening was a series of two pieces, Duke Ellington’s “Almost Cried” and “Sunset and the Mocking Bird,” connected by an improvised interlude by MIT postdoctoral researcher Peter Godart on the piano. “Almost Cried” was slow and sinuous, starting with a beautiful trumpet solo, and the percussion emphasized the dreamy, emotional mood. Godart’s interlude was a beautifully smooth transition and an impressive improvisation. Finally, “Sunset and the Mocking Bird” was a particular treat to listen to. Originally composed for Queen Elizabeth II, the piece evoked the mood of the beginning of spring and featured fast-paced riffs on the piano reminescent of birdsong. It concluded with beautiful trills on the clarinet that emphasized this mood.

The next portion of the concert consisted of a sequence of pieces composed by Miguel Zenón, world-renowned saxophonist who previously taught MIT’s Advanced Jazz Performance course. Zenón began with an incredibly fast-paced saxophone solo that transformed into a piece that featured the entire ensemble — his own composition “Pandero y Pagode.” The upbeat, catchy tune was emphasized by the intertwined clarinet and saxophone solos, the latter performed by Zenón himself. In fact, Zenón and Dr. Harris both danced throughout the piece. The music then switched to a heavy beat reminiscent of rock music, accentuated by electric guitar, but it ended in contrast with soft trills on the piano.

Following this were two more of Zenón’s original compositions: “Sangre de Mi Sangre” and “Ya.” “Sangre de Mi Sangre” started off slower, with pretty chord combinations on the upright bass, but it quickly transformed into a piece with a strong beat. It then ended the same way it started: with floating, softer chords on the piano and upright bass. Finally, “Ya” was a fast-paced piece that was strong from the very beginning. Everyone on stage was absorbed in the music, and the incredibly high and fast notes made for an impressive show.

The MIT Alumni Jazz Band then took over for the next third of the concert. Featuring musicians from the class of ’68 all the way to the class of ’21, the band was a powerful reminder of MIT alumni’s continued dedication to their school. Even more impressively, Dr. Harris noted that the band had only rehearsed together once — the night before the concert! Their first piece, “Take the A Train,” was performed somewhat unusually as a ballad instead of as a swing, but it was a beautifully moving song. They followed up with Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba,” which was unbelievably upbeat and energetic and a complete contrast to the previous piece. The percussion was really the highlight; the incredible drum section had the audience dancing in their seats, and the powerful ending really drove home the intensity of the piece.

The Festival Jazz Ensemble then returned to perform the final third of the concert. Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” was first on the program, a piece which Dr. Harris described as being a “reflective, melancholy, passionate” song that the band was performing to send sounds of solidarity to Ukraine. It lived up to these expectations, opening with a haunting guitar solo and pretty flute trills, turning into a powerful piece, but maintaining the same melancholy undertones. This was followed by a harmonized version of Charlie Parker’s “KC Blues” performed solely by the saxophone section, the highlight of which was Zenón’s incredible solo with powerful high notes. Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle,” a bebop, was next. The fast pace and high energy levels were kept up by the percussion, and the pianist and keyboard player sounded as though they were tickling the keys.

To conclude, the Festival Jazz Ensemble along with Miguel Zenón performed two pieces by Zenón, “Esta Plena” and “Oyelo,” in tribute to Puerto Rican artist Hector “Tito” Matos. This performance featured two special guests for percussion and vocals, and the audience caught a glimpse of Zenón’s beautiful singing voice in both pieces. “Oyelo,” performed as a big band arrangement, served as an especially powerful ending to the concert. All in all, the concert was a wonderful tribute to Herb Pomeroy that featured a excellently diverse variety of pieces, all skillfully played.