The UCI Jazz Small Groups concert kicked off Wednesday night with cheers and shouts from an enthusiastic crowd of jazz fans and students alike. The concert, which featured three combo groups of students led by faculty members, was held in the packed Winifred Smith Hall and displayed the immense talent of the jazz students of the UCI Music Department.
The first group on stage, The Advanced Combo, led by Professor Kei Akagi on piano, started the infectious vibe of the night with the song “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” by Christian McBride. As the song began, the crowd erupted in excitement and displayed their best dance moves in their seats, which continued throughout the night. Andy Francis, the tenor sax of the group, took center stage with several impressive solos, and a few dance moves of his own. On drums, Terran Artis elicited several squeals of boyband-mania level from a group of girls within the audience. The crew was funky and infinitely fun and appeared to be a crowd favorite.
Next up was The Wednesday Combo, featuring Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, a head member of the UCI jazz faculty, and Grammy nominee. Rodriguez joked with the crowd throughout the set, stating he has been at UCI for over 100 years, calling out a fellow faculty member in the audience, and even asking the crowd jazz trivia. Rodriguez graciously complimented the students onstage with him, especially bass player Gabe Mallari, who was also featured in The Advanced Combo. Mallari, who played both the electric bass and upright bass within the groups, has only been playing the latter for about 10 weeks, yet was amazing at both. He unleashed several incredible electric bass solos, all while dancing and bobbing his head, evoking applause and cheers each time.
“There is no feeling that can come close to comparing to how I feel performing,” Mallari said. “There is nothing else on my mind except the music in front of me. It’s an intense rush of focus that literally blocks any thoughts from floating into my head. Because of that, whenever I perform, I’m not worrying or stressing about anything; as a result, I enjoy my time on stage.”
The final combo, The Tuesday Combo (if you are seeing a trend here, both combos are named after the days they practice) finished the night with the complex song, “Wayfinder” by Chris Potter, which surprised audience members with its unique sound and use of strange instruments such as the cabasa, utilized by pianist Blaine Sayre who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the number.
By the end of the concert, previously reserved audience members clapped furiously, and it was clear that in just two hours, everyone within the Winifred Smith Hall had been united by the funky powers of jazz music.