The Rover reviews Collegiate Jazz Festival

This past weekend, Notre Dame hosted the 60th Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival, featuring ten bands from eight different colleges. Over the course of two days, each band played for about half an hour. Professional jazz artists Greg Tardy, Alex Norris, Bruce Barth, Sean Conly, and Jaimeo Brown judged the schools on their performances. The professionals themselves also performed during the traditional “judges’ jam” on Friday night.

The first band to play was Alma College’s Percussion Ensemble. The group brought with them a piano, guitar, several xylophones, and a legion of steel drums. This created a clear sound quite different from the sloppy half beat famous on Bourbon Street. They used the large gallon steel drums in rear of the stage to emit low brasslike sounds usually accomplished by a trumpet. Likewise, light repeated tapping on three xylophones emitted a string-like sound. The Alma students played Louis Armstrong’s famous “What a Wonderful World” with their unique set of instruments instead of the usual vocals, violins, and suppressed horn.

Next, the Columbia College Fusion Ensemble played a wide range of original compositions that ranged from progressive jazz to R&B. The vocalist sang little to no lyrics, and instead belted out a string of “ooooh’s” and “woooaaah’s. Their drummer was especially excellent, but the other instrumentals were just mediocre. The music created by this group had the vibe of background music from an episode of Mad Men.

The University of Illinois at Chicago Funk Combo played third. This band, also known as the “Flames of Funk,” knew exactly who they were. Their first number was an instrumental piece that combined brass and guitar work. For the remainder of their performance, the band was accompanied by an amazing vocalist. When this young performer sang, her voice filled the entire hall. The band’s selection crescendoed with their rendition of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You.” The fancy guitar work, tight band, and powerful vocals had the whole theater stomping along to the 70s hit.

The last performance of the night was Notre Dame’s own New Orleans Brass Band. It’s very difficult to be the last act of a show that goes on for four hours. But the New Orleans Brass Band made it worth staying. Bear in mind I’ve been going to New Orleans jazz clubs since I was about ten years old, so I was ready to hate a “New Orleans Band” from South Bend, Indiana. Modern New Orleans jazz bands can take the whole “sloppy French quarter beat” too far. But I must admit, they were excellent. I was at a New Orleans jazz concert over Christmas break where the trumpeter left the theater in the middle of a song to get two fingers of bourbon from the bar across the street. He stumbled back into the theater, downed the drink, and then proceeded to slaughter the rest of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Unlike that band, the Notre Dame New Orleans Jazz band maintained that loose French Quarter style without overdoing it (no one was taking bar breaks).  

Overall, the 60th annual collegiate jazz festival was a success, and showcased some of the best college groups in the nation.

Alexander Arroyo is a freshman Political Science major in Stanford Hall. He hails from New Orleans, LA, where he learned to appreciate authentic jazz music, as well as seafood. He can be reached at