Jazz One ensemble captured during their performance of "The Nutcracker Suite"

Iowa State’s Jazz One ensemble performed “The Nutcracker Suite” Wednesday, a reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s classic, The Nutcracker. The ensemble gathered underneath the university’s impressive organ to fill the recital hall with their recreation of Duke Ellington’s famous work.

The performance began at 7:30 inside of the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall. The lights dimmed and the performers entered the stage. Professor of Music and Theater and Director of the Jazz ensembles, Michael Giles, briefly took the mic to introduce the band and narrator of the concert, Olivia Helton, concertmaster of the ISU Symphony Orchestra and a senior in interior design. 

After introductions, the ensemble took off playing “Overture”, as the smooth walking bass-line wound up, the brass sections began to chime in with powerful tones. Throughout the concert, the ensemble’s wide range of tones and volumes captivated the audience. 

Sudden blasts from the brass would stun the audience before soft clarinet or saxophone solos earned their appreciation. The familiar tunes of Tchaikovsky’s original work often rang out, only to be outdone by the nuanced tones and rhythms of the jazzy reinterpretation.

The concert featured several solos, both in and out of players’ respective sections. Often performers would play a “transcribed solo” from within their section with brief melodies and riffs, which aimed to remain true to Ellington’s compositions. Other soloists would move to the front of the stage to improvise their own solo, making the performance their own.

In between sets, Helton would speak up, offering bits of context behind the music, explaining both the history of Tchaikovsky’s ballet and the reimagination of the work created by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Helton explained how the work transcended cultures and generations, having stemmed from French playwrights, the work was adopted by Tchaikovsky with his romantic compositions before being reinterpreted by more modern jazz musicians.

Helton also performed a violin solo in the last set of the night titled “Finale”. The solo rang through the recital hall with a somewhat dire tone that felt as true to Tchaikovsky’s original work as it was to the jazzy recreation. After the show, Helton explained some of what goes into an improvised solo.

“You can plan out what you want to play ahead of time, to improvise, but improvising, I feel like for me, is best when I have something that I can sing in my head,” said Helton. “As it happens in the moment, you plan before, but you kind of forget it all when you're doing it. you just kind of play what's in your mind and your heart.”

Helton’s solo fit right into the atmosphere created by the rest of the ensemble, spouting the heart of a beloved classic yet the attitude of disenfranchised youth. 

After the performance, Giles explained some of the reasoning behind the selection of music for the concert.

“It's a set of music that I've played several times before and it's unique, so I think it represents classical repertoire, but really what jazz can do for any kind of song form,” said Giles. “So I think it's important for students to have that experience playing that stuff, and I actually think it's important to push the art forward to keep reminding, you know, the general community that we can do stuff like this.”

The Music and Theatre department has five more performances before the end of the semester, the soonest of which is the “CySlides” trombone choir, which will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall.

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