Berry Jazz Ensemble Celebrates 40 Years of Jazz

Berry students and faculty alike gathered to celebrate former professor, William Robison.

Sarah O’Carroll, Viking Fusion Reporter

“It doesn’t matter what box it’s in; it’s all jazz,” said Berry Jazz Ensemble director John David. 

Thursday night at Ford Auditorium, where there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, the jazz box proved full of surprises – some happy, some bittersweet, but all of them memorable.

The evening was billed as a jazz retrospective celebrating the legacy of former Berry professor of music, William Robison, who started a jazz program at Berry by launching a chapter of Phi Mu Alpha in 1974. Robison served as the director of the jazz ensemble for 27 years, from 1972 through 1999. 

Among the many memorable moments from Thursday night’s performance, the ensemble’s rendition of “Georgia on my Mind” arranged by the Tonight Show Band stood out. Dedicated to Robison, Thursday night’s rendition included Dr. Adam Hayes playing Robison’s own trumpet.

Another highlight featured Berry alum Marc Johnson playing with the ensemble on “Everything in Its Right Place,” a tune by Radiohead – a seamless collaboration among students and professors that spoke to the musical maturity of the ensemble. In fact, an ensemble that can play with aplomb songs from the likes of Snarky Puppy, the Foo Fighters and the Groove Merchant, all in the same night, is one not content to merely pay homage to the past. This night belonged to the present, too.

Also in the surprise category was senior Destiny Reed’s robust performance of Adele’s “Skyfall.”

In addition to Reed, seniors Jordan Epperson, Mark Morton, Jarod Holland, David Warren and Matthew Soares were given time to shine, and the transitions between these highlights were fluid and perfectly paced. Each song felt like a five-course meal.

The evening closed out with “The Chicken” by Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis, an upbeat tune made famous by James Brown, a song that makes you feel better about the world. This would have pleased Bill Robison. Everyone left smiling. 

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