It was time to make an album that would serenade Denton in jazz.
That’s it, said Steve Wiest, the leader of the University of North Texas One O’clock Lab Band. It was just time.
“When we started talking about the recording, we thought, ‘Let’s get back to Denton,’” Wiest said. “All of the alumni of this program speak so highly of Denton. And a few have come back to Denton after traveling and playing everywhere.”
Wiest happens to be one of those alumni. The trombone player was part of the band in the 1980s, under Neil Slater.
Titled simply One O’clock Lab Band: Lab 2013, the recording is the latest installment of the top UNT jazz ensemble’s yearly exercise in making a record. Students in the band are expected to compose an original piece or arrange another composer’s work, submit it for class review, performance, and, if they’re really on their game, a spot on the track list.
Wiest said the yearly record teaches the band to focus on where the rubber meets the road: writing and arranging jazz that is technically sound, musically engaging and appealing to a client, whether that client is a producer or a jazz fan looking for a new album.
“In a jazz program like this, very few students are going to go onto become the new voice of the jazz world. There are too many great players, too many really good musicians,” Wiest said. “In this program, educationally, what we’re about is a real-world experience. And the record is a very real-world experience. There’s no guarantee that their piece will make the album.”
Wiest said the band members were told to take whatever it is about Denton that inspires them and then apply it to a song.
Trombone player Jenny Kellogg’s “Traffic Jam” was inspired by — what else? — gridlock along the interstate. Rising star Aaron Hedenstrom’s “Old West” bows low to the no-frills breakfast parlor of the same name on Dallas Drive. Trumpet player Keith Karns wrote “The Square.”
The numbers are long, true to tradition, but varied. Wiest likened the record to a scrapbook rather than a chapter book.
“I think the record has a happy vibe,” he said. “I’d tell people to listen for the influences of the music they love — the most overt of them being rock. It sounds like a soundtrack to a documentary about Denton.”
Jazz faculty member Richard DeRosa arranged a song Wiest said “just belongs” on the record, Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
DeRosa isn’t short on obligations. He recently earned the conductor’s baton for the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany — a job that comes with composition and arranging expectations. DeRosa said he was happy to contribute.
“It’s great for all of us — for Steve, for Neil [Slater] and the students,” DeRosa said. “The band is always changing, but it always has this quality to it. The opportunity to write for good musicians and have it recorded is too good to pass up. That’s how I look at it. These aren’t ‘just students.’ They’re really good musicians.”
DeRosa said the recording is a ticket of sorts to the professional music world.
“The students have to look at recording as self-promotion. If someone hears it, and likes it? That will do more for your career than just about anything else,” he said.
“And I mean that. A recording will do more than an ad in a magazine. If someone likes what you write, they’ll want you to write for them.”
The recording teaches the students to write, arrange, perform in the studio and, if they’re alert, to make a commodity that will serve the marketplace and their own career.
“In the music business today — and God knows it’s changed and continues to change — musicians have to learn to be producers,” DeRosa said. “You can’t just play anymore. Even if you’re the best. You have to write, you have to produce.”
Wiest said he’s proud of the record.
“My biggest point of pride is this overriding sense of the high quality of the student composing and arranging. The playing, too, yes. But this is the whole package,” Wiest said.
The CD is available online at http://jazz.unt.edu and www.penders.com.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: UNT One O’clock Lab Band with guest artist Walt Wisekopf on saxophone
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 26
Where: Winspear Hall in UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center, 2100 Interstate 35E
Details: Tickets cost $15 for adults; $10 for seniors, non-UNT students, UNT faculty, staff and retirees. Free admission for UNT students with valid ID. For tickets, call 940-369-7802 or visit www.thempac.com. The band’s new album, Lab 2013, will be sold at the concert.
One O’clock Lab Band members on the recording of Lab 2013 are:
Saxophones — Devin Eddleman (lead), Alex Fraile, Aaron Hedenstrom, Nick Salvucci, Spenser Liszt
Trumpets — Chad Willis (lead), Robby Yarber, Preston Haining, Keith Karns, Stuart Mack
Trombones — Isaac Washam (lead), Jenny Kellogg, Julie Gray, Jon Gauer (bass), Sean Casey (bass)
Rhythm — Addison Frei, piano; Scott Neary, guitar; Young Heo, bass; Matt Young, drums
Director — Steve Wiest
Manager — Craig Marshall
TRACK BY TRACK
ONE O’CLOCK LAB BAND: LAB 2013
“Denton Standard Time” — This tune, written and arranged by One O’clock Lab Band leader Steve Wiest, is equal parts cheeky and groovy. You can imagine Wiest looking at the UNT campus. Kids with dreadlocks bop along with earbuds in, oblivious to the buttoned-down professors and Type A students fretting and hustling past them to make that very important date. About three minutes in, our “eyes” shift over to a young man trying to impress a girl with his swagger. He tries a joke at 3:45, but a surge of people headed to their midday classes swallows Romeo whole and — BAM! — we’re at Apogee Stadium, green T-shirts flashing in the crowd and a hive-like buzz of voices rising to a cheer. By the 6-minute mark, we’re behind the wheel, searching for a parking spot and trying not to run over pedestrians. The track is a matrix of rhythms and a funnel of big, bright harmonies. 9 minutes, 41 seconds.
“Old West” — Aaron Hedenstrom. Remember that name, because it’s bound to get wider use after graduation. The precocious writer and saxophone player paints a picture of morning in Denton at Old West Cafe with precision and a touch of whimsy. A plodding opening needs its coffee, but as patrons take their tables and the griddle grows warm, the tune gets to perking. Hedenstrom doesn’t give all the glory to the sax in this number, either. In fact, trumpets and trombones come in on heavy trays and the guitar sizzles. Nice of Hedenstrom to let the guitar take a walk and represent the hearty flavors on an Old West platter. We really dive into it, with the trumpets going from smooth to bright. By the end, the saxophones are stomach-patting good. Hedenstrom’s sense of narrative arc is one of the record’s best surprises. 8:05.
“Traffic Jam” — Writer-arranger Jenny Kellogg revives some of Leonard Bernstein’s best dramatic motion in this track — which doesn’t make predictable use of the horns. Kellogg casts the trumpets and trombones as a rhythm section (that ticking vein at your temple when trying to get over the Lewisville Lake bridge?). She lets us inside the cars, with their talk radios, hip-hop and pop chattering in unison behind the horn. There’s a little stop-and-go and a lot of human ambition in what clocks in as one of the record’s shorter tracks. Kellogg has an animated musical imagination. How else could those endless brake lights (in the form of guitar and alto sax) be both jarring and propulsive at the same time? 5:42.
— Lucinda Breeding