By PETER THUNELL
Things like this are not supposed to happen in Provo. I am sure that was what everyone was thinking to themselves this past week during the BYU Jazz Fest. To hear music that good, most people would have to go to a jazz club like the Blue Note in New York.
Yet, defying all logic, there we were in the de Jong Concert Hall being treated to some of the best talent in the business.
Last Thursday night vocalist Dee Daniels joined the Faculty Jazz Quintet for an amazing set that left the audience wishing it would go on all night. Daniels started by paying the Quintet the highest of compliments by calling them the best faculty jazz group that she has worked with, and she assured us that she has worked with quite a few. The Quintet did not disappoint, showing off their talents in a variety of songs and solos.
Daniels kept the audience going with an array of jazz favorites. Daniels’ voice was incredible, but it was her easygoing stage presence and showmanship that won the audience over.
When she wasn’t playing the piano during her smooth rendition of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story,” she was telling us a story in the middle of “Love is Here to Stay” about how she stands by her man.
To close the show Daniels showcased her gospel roots and the full range of her four-octave voice in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
On Friday and Saturday night the BYU jazz band Synthesis played with Dennis Rowland, who sang with the Count Baise Orchestra for seven years. The minute Rowland took the stage it was clear that he was taking control and we were in for a wild ride.
It seemed as though every song Rowland sang had a facinating history behind it. The song “Watch What Happens” was given to him by Tony Bennett to use as an opener. To sing “Everyday I Get the Blues” in every concert is a tradition stemming from Rowland’s days in the Count Baise Orchestra.
Rowland kept the show fun by cracking jokes in his deep, silky, bass voice and getting the audience to sing along during “Wild Women Don’t Worry.” With Rowland’s infectious energy, it wasn’t long before the guitarist was doing solos behind his head and the rest of the band was swinging their instruments to the beat.
The show stopper came during the encore when Rowland began to randomly call people out of Synthesis to solo. It was amazing to see what the players could do with no prior warning.
One second one of the band members was taking the microphone for a scat solo and the next second four saxophones were crowded around the microphone jamming all at once. It was one of the few 15-minute songs I have ever heard that felt much too short.
After the shows I had to keep reminding myself that all of this took place in the little Midwestern town of Provo, Utah, where the word jazz is usually associated with basketball. If the jazz department keeps having concerts like this, though, it won’t be long before the tables will be turned and people will be coming from New York to Provo to hear really good jazz.