Bowdoin Jazz Program Picks Up the Tempo

The talented Bowdoin Jazz Ensemble, with Noah Eckstein ’21, Dylan Hayton-Ruffner ’20, Will Sheppard ’18, Dan Mayer ’21, Nick Cattaneo ’21, and Jack O’Connor ’21. (Credits: music recording, Chris Watkinson in Studzinski Recital Hall; music mixing and audio post production, Titus Abbott; second camera, Kevin Travers; directing, editing, and production, Rebecca Goldfine)

Often when a great jazz combo is preparing to perform, you can hear something auspicious even as they warm up. Something analogous happened this year in the Bowdoin jazz program. In the first few days of the semester, the College’s music faculty could hear in the quality of the students’ playing that there would be a thrilling year of music ahead.

“This year, we received a lot of interest in the jazz combos,” said Titus Abbott, who is co-director of jazz ensembles with senior lecturer in music Frank Mauceri. Mauceri is currently on sabbatical. In the first week of classes, “we had a great turnout at the auditions,” Abbott added.

After these auditions, the department puts together a few jazz ensembles based on students’ skill and schedules. “This year all the ensembles, there are five, all of them have strong elements,” Abbott said.

In particular, he elaborated on the strengths of one of these groups, the Bowdoin Jazz Ensemble, which is made up mostly of first-year students, several of whom Mauceri recruited last year. The players include alto saxophonist Noah Eckstein ’21, tenor saxophonist Dylan Hayton-Ruffner ’20, trombonist Will Sheppard ’18, bass player Dan Mayer ’21, drummer Nick Cattaneo ’21, and pianist Jack O’Connor ’21.

“I wanted to find one group that really could take on challenging material, and these guys stepped up and put in the extra amount of work it takes,” Abbott said. “We’re doing some difficult music, and some tempos that are pretty fast.”

As soon as they began playing together, the group bonded, both musically and as friends. “What is really great is they have locked as an ensemble,” Abbott said. “They’ve got a real ensemble sound, which is hard to achieve…and these guys did that almost immediately.” They’re good enough to book gigs off campus, and played at the Portland club Blue in December.

Sheppard, who plays the trombone, was also impressed the ease with which the band came together. “I played with these guys one time, and just even in the warm-up the very first time, I realized this is a really good group of people,” he said.

Abbott said that any one of the musicians in the ensemble is strong enough to have attended a music conservatory. “They are accomplished enough musicians that they could have done that track, but they made the choice to have the liberal arts with music still being a central interest to them,” he said.

Several of the players said they opted to attend a liberal arts college with a strong music program over a conservatory because they wanted a challenging and broad academic curriculum. Others mentioned they wanted to study another topic, like physics or religion, as well as music.

“When I was applying to colleges, I was really worried about being able to do whatever I wanted and not feeling like I had to go into one specific thing, like going to engineering school just to do engineering or go to music school just to play music,” Hayton-Ruffner said. “Here I can explore the liberal arts, while also playing music, and it’s been a real privilege to do that.”

Listen to complete tracks played by the Bowdoin Jazz Ensemble

“Eternal Triangle,” Sonny Stitt

“First Snow,” Dave Holland

“Little Sunflower,” Freddie Hubbard

“Monk’s Dream,” Thelonius Monk

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