Milligan’s ensemble ready to jazz up Christmas

Johnson City Press

MILLIGAN COLLEGE (Nov. 28, 2008) — Christmas and jazz come together on Tuesday when the 23-piece Milligan College Jazz Ensemble presents “Yuletide Jazz at Milligan College.” Vibraphonist David Morgan will be the guest artist in what should be a unique music experience for both the performers and listeners.

Concert time is 7:30 p.m. in Seeger Memorial Chapel. Admission is free.

Ensemble director Rick Simerly, trombonist and associate professor of music at Milligan, said it’s an ambitious performance, and he’s excited about it.

“It’s a lot of variety. We’ll have some small-group numbers and do different combinations. David will sing some, too, and he’s a great performer.

“Hopefully people will like this. It’s a crossover in that it’s all Christmas music but it’s done in a jazz style, so people who like jazz and the improvisational aspects of it will like this, but people who are maybe not even jazz fans will come and enjoy it and they’ll know the songs. It may open people’s ears to jazz. And there aren’t many Christmas jazz performances around.”

The ensemble includes Milligan students as well as other musicians from the area. Last year it did a popular — and very ambitious — concert in conjunction with the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra, presenting Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite,” as well as the original production “The Gospel According to Jazz.”

Simerly said he’s wanted to present a Christmas jazz concert for a while and was thrilled when it came together. The performance will include 13 numbers. Simerly calls it “wall-to-wall music” and said rehearsals have been “intense. But these guys have been great. They’ve worked really hard to prepare for it.”

Adding Morgan to the mix was also something Simerly had been working on for a while. The two have played concerts togther and talked about doing this kind of event.

“He’s mainly a drummer but Dave is quite a good vibraphonist and singer. Vibraphone has been used on a lot of Christmas albums. Oscar Peterson used to do that and it was on George Shearing’s Christmas albums. It will be a treat to have Dave play.”

Morgan lives in Fancy Gap, Va., near Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Parkway. He has been a fulltime musician for 45 years, playing several styles of music with many big names. He’s led his own group at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia and performed with various orchestras. Morgan has been a regular at the Highlands Jazz Festival.

His CD “Three D in Blue,” on which he plays drums, vibes and sings, has been well-received throughout the country.

Joining Morgan are student ensemble soloists Mark Thie, piano; Dick Davis, Kyle Bothof and Daniel Lockhart, saxophone; Matt Hall and Will Outlaw, trombone; Steve Cooper, Sloan Hill, Jason Bailey and Shane Ladd, trumpet; Tim Wasem and Robert Johnston, guitar; Jake Merrick and Kevin Sanders, bass; and Eddie Dalton, Zach Nicol and Lucas Schmidt, drums.

The concert will feature songs from the libraries of Rob McConnell, Gordon Goodwin, Tom Kubis, Maynard Ferguson and arrangements written especially for the band by Bill Scott. Among the favorites is music from the TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“It’s not necessarily a Christmas song,” Simerly said, “but people associate it with Christmas.”

A big crowd is expected for the performance. For more information, call the Milligan College music office at 461-8723.

“Hopefully this will get people in the Christmas spirit,” Simerly said. “It’s sort of Milligan’s way of giving back to the community with a free concert. We’re really looking forward to this.”


Posted by on November 28, 2008.