Playing the Heat
LSU jazz musicians sweat out the season with Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz series
By Ariel KingPosted Jul 5, 2012
Eighty miles from the New Orleans clubs where jazz music originated, the Louisiana State University School of Music is celebrating the genre with its own summer concert series: Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz.
The series is a six-concert showcase that began on June 14, each of which features various styles of jazz music. Each concert has featured a guest performer jamming with the Hot Summer Nights band.
Made up of faculty members and musicians from the LSU School of Music, the band came together for the concert series with Brian Shaw on trumpet, Willis Delony on piano, drummer Troy Davis, and Bill Grimes on bass.
Grimes started the Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz shows in the mid-90s when he was an administrator in charge of the summer concert series.
“I got as many faculty members as I could to play recitals, and to fill up the empty slots I invited some friends from New Orleans and other places to play on my faculty recital,” Grimes explained. “It was originally called ‘Bill Grimes and Friends’, and sometime later – I can’t remember when – we adopted the name Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz.” While Hot Summer Nights may feature personal friends, their lineups are consistently accented with distinguished jazz musicians from across the country. The next concert will be on July 12 and will feature Clarence Johnson, a New Orleans saxophonist who has performed and recorded with such artists as Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Gladys Knight, and The Temptations. Known for his fierce and often sultry sound and virtuosity, Johnson made his big-screen debut as a member of the Ray Charles Septet and the Ray Charles Orchestra, performing on baritone sax alongside Oscar Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx on the movie Ray (2004). Currently, Johnson serves on the music faculty at Morehouse College as the Principal Woodwind Instructor, Symphonic Band Director, and Professor.
Audiences can expect to hear original compositions by Johnson and some standard jazz tunes, but Grimes literally prefers to play it by ear.
“To be perfectly honest, we’re not sure what we’ll play on each particular night. I think that’s what makes the concerts so intriguing to so many people,” Grimes explained. “As much as we might plan things, sometimes in the middle of the concert, somebody will call a tune not on the list. We’ll decide on a key, and go from there.”
The final summer performance, held on July 13, will feature Steve Masakowski and his daughter, vocalist Sasha Masakowski. Having long been regarded as one of the top Jazz artists in New Orleans, Steve has played guitar with most of the city greatest, including Ellis Marsalis, Alvin “Red” Tyler, and James Black. He has also performed with Grammy Award-winning artists Bobby McFerrin, Allen Toussaint, and Dianne Reeves. Steve can be seen performing at venues around the Crescent City and at Jazz Fest with his band, Astral Project. Currently on faculty at the University of New Orleans, Steve holds the position of Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies.
Vocalist Sasha Masakowski is up-and-coming as an impressive figure in the newest generation of jazz musicians destined to keep the musical legend of New Orleans alive. Her reputation as a daring, fearless improviser and charming, creative interpreter has lead to raving reviews and vast critical acclaim.
The Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz series happens annually and is kept to the summer season only. For Grimes, the concerts provide a refreshing musical experience for the audience, a nice change of pace from most summer concerts.
“People might enjoy hearing some music in a relaxed atmosphere – not necessarily a club, but not really a stuffy concert situation either. We want people to listen instead of talk, listen instead of dance, and listen instead of worrying about the challenges of that particular day,” said Grimes. “The music is at a high artistic level. We have fun. The people have fun. What could be a better way to spend a hot, humid Thursday or Friday night in Baton Rouge?”
Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz Series
• LSU’s School of Music Recital Hall
• July 12-13 at 7:30 p.m.
• $20 for adults; $10 for students
• Through www.BrownPaperTickets.com or 1.800.838.3006. Tickets will also be on sale at the door one hour prior to the show.