Berry Jazz Ensemble ventures into off campus venues

Noah Isherwood, Campus Carrier asst. arts and living editor 

Berry College Jazz Ensemble plays at Dark Side of the Moon. Photo Courtesy of Matthew Wall

On Monday October 21, Broad Street got jazzed up by the Berry College Jazz Ensemble and Jacksonville State University’s two jazz bands, along with Half-Baked Tofu, another Berry student band. These groups converged on Dark Side of the Moon, a bar next to and operated by Harvest Moon Café. 

Even though it was a rainy Monday night, the venue was packed, with audience members crowding close to the band, standing or sitting on the floor. John David, director of jazz and percussion studies here at Berry and the director of the Berry Jazz Ensemble, had only good things to say about the turnout. 

“It was more than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise,” David said. 

David says that Jazz Ensemble concerts usually pack Ford Auditorium, around 300 to 350 people, but, given the time and place of this concert, he was unsure of just how many would show up. The warm reception was very encouraging to David, as well as Harvest Moon. 

“Harvest Moon was really excited about it and they want to do it again, and they have that space plus the Vogue for us to take a look at,” David said. 

The Vogue is an event venue owned by Harvest Moon just across Broad Street from the café. David says that doing an event there similar to this one is very likely, especially given the benefits such events provide for the student musicians. 

“It’s more like a professional setting in that they’re learning what it’s like to play in different venues, and be prepared and responsible for everything that they have to have at the gig, whereas they kinda get comfortable at Berry having everything close by and being in the same room all the time, so I think we’re going to do more of these,” David said. 

Besides being experiential for the musicians, such events are simply more practical for the Jazz Ensemble at the moment. 

“The reason for the concert at Dark Side of the Moon was twofold: because of the renovation we didn’t have the normal Ford Auditorium to perform in, and then looking around campus, you know, there’s not another great venue to do a jazz concert in,” David said. 

The choice of venue is supported by the students in the Jazz Ensemble for various reasons. Some, like junior saxophonist Matthew Wall, enjoy the venue’s harkening back to the history of the genre. 

“I really liked where we did it just because that’s here jazz started, that’s where it should be performed,” Wall said. 

Others, like senior guitarist Karleigh Dills, appreciated the practical, experiential aspects of the new venue, and having to share it. 

“That’s a real gig, having to share a stage with someone, so it’s good experience for later on down the road,” Dills said. 

Still others, like sophomore pianist and vocalist Clay Duke, believe that such venues are places in which jazz becomes more immersive. 

“Everyone had a good time ordering food and drinks and really diving into the atmosphere of a jazz performance,” Duke said. 

David said that these reasons all contributed to the choice of venue. As for the choice of music, while David always tries to picture himself as an audience member to choose music that sounds good, education always takes precedence. 

“The first four tunes we did were about learning classic repertoire and establishing fundamentals of playing, so those are actually curriculum choices, but they just happen to also be really great music to listen to. I’m achieving two things there: teaching them the fundamentals of the repertoire and they’re also learning some really great music,” David said. 

In the later part of the set, David chose pieces that stretched the musicians. These pieces were meant to do something new, something David said is fundamental to the genre. 

“We’re taking standards of the past 40 years and going ‘what can we do with a Radiohead tune, what can we do with a Journey tune?’ Because that’s what jazz musicians did in the early days, they were just using Broadway show tunes,” David said. 

Another unique aspect of the concert was the collaboration with the Jacksonville State University bands. This collaboration is fairly rare among college groups according to Wall. 

“One thing that I don’t think we get enough of in college is an experience of playing with other musicians,” Wall said. 

This collaboration was important to David as well. Andy Nevala, the director of the JSU groups in attendance, is a friend and professional colleague of David. They play together in the Atlanta Latin Jazz Orchestra and are always looking for ways to collaborate. 

“We enjoy collaborating, it’s a total support collaboration not a competition, just let’s have a good time and play music and learn from each other. It’s fun, it’s what the music should be,” David said. 

The learning aspect of the collaboration was stressed by Wall, who pointed out the differences a director can make. 

“When you have a director of jazz, they have their primary instrument; Andy Nevala is piano and John David is drums, so just by knowing what the instructors play themselves, you can hear what kind of influence and particular stylistic choices they make in the music,” Wall said. 

Looking into the future, more similar events are in the works. 

“We’ve got a cancer benefit concert coming up on November 15 at Rome City Auditorium, and right now Dark Side of the Moon is working with us to put us back in that same space or the Vogue right across the street for a Christmas concert,” Duke said. 

For David, this type of event is the ideal concert for jazz, and he looks forward to future events with excitement. 

“What you experienced is what I wanted you to experience, like ‘man this is the way jazz is supposed to be,’ David said. “It’s intimate, it’s interactive, it’s in the moment, every performance is different, and when you’re there experiencing it live there’s nothing like it.” 

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