(JERSEY CITY, NJ) — The New Jersey City University Center for the Arts presented the 7th Annual NJCU Alumni Jazz Big Band Concert on September 6 on the J. Owen Grundy Pier, Exchange Place, in Jersey City. Conducted by Professor Emeritus Richard Lowenthal, this oncert featured trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and vocalists Allan Harris and Antoinette Montague. Photographer John Posada was on hand to take some photos.
The concert paid tribute to the 100th birthdays of Nat King Cole and Art Blakey. Cole, who died at the age of 45, began his music career as a jazz pianist but went on to become one of the most popular jazz and pop singers of all time. Drummer Art Blakey enjoyed more than 60 years as a jazz musician, leading the iconic Jazz Messengers and being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, and the DownBeat Hall of Fame.
This year’s special guests include one of the most famous names in jazz, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1980. An internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader, and educator, Wynton has won nine Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, the National Humanities Medal, plus numerous other awards and accolades. He expressed a delight to be able to pay homage to Art Blakey.
The salute to Nat King Cole featured the Harlem-based vocalist Allan Harris, whom the Wall Street Journal called “the most exciting young male singer on the scene.” Since launching his career some two decades ago, Alan has won numerous awards, including the DownBeat Critics Award, two Hot House Jazz Magazine Awards, the Backstage Bistro Award, and several others. Critics have compared him to Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and, of course, Nat King Cole. Allan was joined for duets featuring a New Jersey favorite, Antoinette Montague, who reprised the Grammy Award-winning performance of Natalie Cole singing “Unforgettable.”
“Every year, we invite special guest artists to join our all-star alumni big band,” said Professor Dick Lowenthal who retired from NJCU in 2017, “and we have been fortunate to have some greats including Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Cyrille Aimee, Paquito D’Rivera, and Lou Marini.”
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As is the case every year, the all-star big band included accomplished musicians who studied at the school as far back as the 1960s when Professor Emeritus Lowenthal started the jazz program. The band members are drummer Rich DeRosa; sax players Mark Friedman, Bob Magnusson, Dave Noland, Dustyn Richardson, and John DiSanto; trumpeters Alex Norris, Nate Eklund and Vinnie Cutro; trombonists Rob Edwards, Mike Modero, and Conrad Zulauf; and faculty member Garry Dial on piano. The big band will also feature three students: bassist John Benitez, trombonist Juanga Lakunza, and trumpeter Alejandro Pizarro-Leon.
The Alumni Big Band concert began in 2013 at the request of NJCU President Sue Henderson, a jazz fan who was being inaugurated as the first woman president of the University which was founded in 1927 as a teacher-training college. President Henderson asked Professor Richard Lowenthal of the Music Department to produce a jazz concert as part of the inauguration festivities and Dick put out a call to alumni of the program who were active in the music business.
This was the seventh year the NJCU Alumni Jazz Big Band presented a waterfront concert on the J. Owen Grundy Pier. Previous concerts have been A Tribute to WBGO’s 40th Anniversary with guest soloist Paquito d’Rivera, A 100th Birthday Salute to Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Thelonious Monk, with guest artists Jon Faddis and Cyrille Aimée; A Tribute to Lew Soloff of Blood Sweat &Tears with Randy Brecker; A Tribute to Clark Terry with special guest Wynton Marsalis; A Salute to the Other Jersey Boys with John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub; and A Celebration of the Inauguration of President Sue Henderson with trumpeter Jon Faddis.