Jazz Recital Good for the Soul

(from L) Scesney, Barron, Hensinger & Levenson at his sr. jazz recital

For jazz lovers, there’s nothing like live jazz. It’s good for the soul. CDs are fine for listening, but with live jazz, you have experience of them playing right in front of you. You see them getting “lost” in their playing, jamming with other musicians, and sweating after the show.

Last Friday, April 23, for one glorious hour, we got to hear live, Chicago-style jazz in Idyllwild. Not from some leathery old souls in a smoke-filled bar, but teenagers in a well-lit recital hall on the Idyllwild Arts campus. Some of the jazz students were even playing their own compositions.

Two high school seniors, one on drums and the other on electric guitar, wowed the intimate crowd made up of mostly classmates and faculty. If you were to close your eyes, and not look at those eager, young faces, you’d swear you were sitting in a club in Chicago.

Nate Levenson, on drums, was first. His lineup of songs included some jazz standards, like “Red Clay” by Freddie Hubbard, but another was “Dip De Do,” a never-heard-before composition by his friend, Caleb Hensinger on trumpet.

With drums, it’s kind of tricky to do a solo recital. Drums are always the backbeat of a song, never the melody. So Levenson “got a little help from his friends,” including Mint Park on electric guitar, Jacob Scesney on alto sax, Anthony Leung on tenor sax, Hallie Hudson on piano, Benny Kleinerman on piano, Caleb Hensinger on trumpet, and Alejandro Barron on bass and electric guitar.

For only being 18, Levenson had a good command of his audience. He opened with, “How are you guys doing tonight?” He dedicated his first song, “Mamacita,” to his girlfriend, Caleigh Birrell, who was seated in the audience.

Scesney and Hensinger both had solos during the recital

For his second piece, Levenson took a backseat at his own recital to showcase his friend, Caleb Hensinger.

“The next piece is called ‘Dip De Do’ by my friend, Caleb,” Levenson said. “He had too many pieces to play during his recital, and couldn’t play this one. I liked it, so I asked him to play it tonight.”

Hensinger, who is only a junior, was a showman during his own piece that was upbeat, but didn’t sound like a novice created it. On certain notes, he pointed his horn high in the air. During the “moody” parts, his horn was low.

It was a risk for Levenson to turn it over to a showman, and there he was playing the backbeat during his own recital. But it takes a big man to let someone else have the spotlight, and the audience appreciated his gesture.

And for the modest jazz drummer, it took the pressure off of him for a few moments.

The next piece was the highlight of Levenson’s portion of the show. This time, he turned it over to Jacob Scesney, on alto sax. Scesney performed a rendition of “Morning Bell.” It was first performed by Radiohead, then Chris Potter, his favorite sax player, did his own rendition of it. Then Scesney played off of Potter’s version.

“I think you can still tell what it is,” Scesney had said before the show.

From the moment he played his first note, you could tell Scesney was in love with this song. It was evident on his face, in his closed eyes, the slight smile on his face, his body language, and even the curl in his hair. Everything seemed to be wired into that song.

And the audience was paying attention. They were on the edge of their seats, loving every moment. No one spoke, and all eyes were fixed on Scesney. When it was over, the audience erupted in applause. For a long moment afterwards, Scesney was still “feeling it” in his own world. Levenson had to bring him back.

“Are you OK?” Levenson asked.

“What are we playing next?” Scesney asked, trying to snap out of his trance.

It was a moment to remember. No one would think that a rendition of a rendition could be so good. But it was, it was.

'Nate played great!' said Harold Mason, his teacher

Although he had turned the spotlight over to a trumpeter and saxman, Levenson knew what he was doing during his senior show. He would steal the spotlight, and do drum solos, that would make him smile and grab the audience’s attention.

According to Harold Mason, his teacher, who came to Idyllwild all the way from Rancho Cucamonga on that snowy night, Levenson played “just great!”

Next up on the roster was Mint Park and her electric guitar. It goes without saying that in the jazz world, there are mostly male musicians. The women were the singers, such as Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. No woman musician comes to mind.

So Park is blazing her own trail. Not to be ignored, she wore a bubblegum pink blazer. Her signature cropped hair (on one side) hung in her eyes as she warmed up. No shrinking violet, she commanded the boys when she was ready to start.

Mint Park (center) played two of her own compositions

Park’s lineup included jazz standards, “Lullaby of Bird Land” by George Shearling, and “Take Five” by Paul Desmond. Her electric guitar riffs had to fight to be heard above the other instruments, but it was clear and confident.

For her third piece, Park mixed up the order of things. She played “Chocolate,” her own composition, based on an all-school party that featured chocolate. (One never knows what serves as musical inspiration).

An added bonus was when Park took the mike and started to sing. She had a decent enough voice, but it was hard to hear above the music. Next time, she need to gain confidence and get closer to the mike.

Park’s fourth piece, “View from Moscow,” by Kurt Rosenwinkel, was met by a “Yeah!” from Marietta, Russian film student, and applause from the audience.

Yet, it was Park’s last piece that everyone will remember: “Star Gazing,” which was her own composition.

“I’m mixing up the program a little bit,” she said, half apologetically. “But they always tell you that it can happen three minutes before the tune starts.”

Then she invited the audience to “star gaze” with her, and shut off the lights. During that tune that she wrote herself, you could only see the silhouettes of the jazz players in the dark. That’s when it really sounded like masters playing in a club in Chicago.

“I was a little disoriented at first when the lights went out,” said Karin Obermeier, a literature teacher at Idyllwild Arts. She attended the jazz recital with her young son, who didn’t seem to mind.

However, later, the stories came out.

“It was cool when the lights went out, but the piano player was left in the dark,” said Simone Huls, an ESL teacher at Idyllwild Arts.

Jazz pianist Hallie Hudson hadn’t memorized Park’s music, and was relying on the sheet music in front of her. When the lights went out, she couldn’t see, and had to improvise.

The audience wasn’t the wiser.

“It’s too bad that we couldn’t see the stars when Mint turned out the lights,” said one student later. “The windows were too dirty, and there were pine trees in the way. But it was a nice idea anyway.”

For those of us who love live jazz, it was a slice of heaven.

Be sure and check the Idyllwild Arts web site for the next jazz recital. Visit www.idyllwild arts.org.

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the attachments to this post:

Jazz Mint Group

Jazz Nate

Jazz Jacob & Caleb

Jazz Nate group

Jazz group warmup

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