Alumni Get Jazzed Up Again

One evening in the ARC  38 years of music at St. Mary’s came together. On Saturday, Feb. 28, an audience of over 800 was treated to two separate Jazz Ensemble performances: the Jazz Ensemble during the 1970s, whose members came from across the East Coast; alongside current members of the Jazz Ensemble.

Don Stapleson, the current director of the Jazz Ensemble, began the evening by mentioning the Jazz Ensembles’ passion for the “traditional jazz” of Thelonious Monk and Louie Armstrong. The Jazz Ensemble then played four jazz numbers, including a piece called “I Remember Clifford” which Stapleson dedicated to a friend, renaming the song to “I Remember Jeremy.”

Between both Jazz Ensembles’ performances, former St. Mary’s president J. Renwick Jackson spoke about the college. He reiterated several times that “St. Mary’s College is a place of dreams.” Jackson was president of St. Mary’s from 1969-1982, and is now a Reverend at Community Of The Creator Spirit in Brookhaven Hamlet, New York. “We were told it wasn’t possible for a public college to be as good as a private college.”

After Stapleson’s ensemble played, Bob Levy took the stage to direct the ensemble of Alumni. Levy has an interesting directing style – he’ll move forward to signify an increase in intensity, embodying the tempo and intensity of the music as he directs it. Levy’s ensemble performed almost a dozen different jazz numbers, several of them written by members of the ensemble.

Levy was absolutely fundamental in making the school’s music program what it is today. “The magic of tonight is the magic of Levy,” said Maryland Poet Laureate Michael Glaser. “He did it when he was here in the ‘70s and he did it here tonight.”

Jazz musicians from across the East Coast returned to St. Mary’s on February 28 to perform together. (Photo by Brendan O’Hara)
Jazz musicians from across the East Coast returned to St. Mary’s on February 28 to perform together. (Photo by Brendan O’Hara)

Levy started the Music Department in 1971, directing his first concert in December of that year.

After the show, he spoke of the early years of the music department. “I was captivated by making something from nothing,” to be able to shape its attitudes and philosophy. “It was a joyous time for me.”

“The amazing thing is here’s a guy who’s finishing a PhD and he’s coming to a school with no music program,” said Jack Palmer, a member of the original ensemble.

Levy said he was glad to meet current students. “There’s some talented kids with great potential to blossom.”

The arranger for musician Prince and St. Mary’s alumni, Greg Boyer, directed the ensemble for a song he arranged. When Boyer stepped onstage, he apologized that he didn’t have a speech for his composition, explaining that he would let the music speak for itself.

Students from the current Jazz Ensemble found it exhilarating to meet previous members of the Ensemble one-on-one, including Boyer.

“He came up and talked to me, I almost died,” said Alex Schwalje, a current Jazz Ensemble member. “I, like, worship him. Prince is all about musicians who can play well.”

“I just hope that in 30 or 40 years I can come back and play in the jazz band… and have as much fun as they’re having,” added Nick Hughes, a first-year.

Bob Levy (left) who began the music department in 1971, directs alumni during the Jazz Retrospective.
Bob Levy (left) who began the music department in 1971, directs alumni during the Jazz Retrospective.

Don Mumbert, a member of the local community said meeting the alumni was “great for the younger musicians, so they can see where they can be.”

Most of the audience was composed of members of the community, or family and friends of the musicians. “It’s disappointing that more students didn’t show up,” said Bryan Alexander, a [junior].

“It was so cool to see that this small college could produce this,” said Leroy Pressley.

Returning alumni were also excited to be back at St. Mary’s. Larry Brown, who teaches at Great Mills High School, said that former Jazz Ensemble members were eager to return here. “Some of them haven’t seen each other for 20 years.”

There was a bond between members of the Jazz Ensemble when it first began. “You can see the solidarity of people who used to go here,” said Lauren Scrieber, a senior.

“The college is where this group of people formed a family,” said Terry Alvey. “To come back and do this and be greeted is amazing.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *