All that jazz

Members of the 2023 URI jazz band the Jazz Cats performing at the Newport Jazz Festival
Jazz majors (l-r) Jude LaRoche, Fernando Marzan, Ricki Rizzo, Andrew Dyson, and Mason Tucker, performed at the 2023 Newport Jazz Festival. (Not pictured: Wyatt Crosby and Luis Nunez). Photo by Anthony LaRoche.

The dark clouds above Fort Adams threatened to douse the opening day of the Newport Jazz Festival.

But by the time alto saxophonist Fernando Marzan started into Wayne Shorter’s “Yes or No,” it had turned into a beautiful day, with blue skies and a refreshing breeze off Narragansett Bay.  

Marzan was joined by six other University of Rhode Island jazz students who realized the dream of playing the iconic festival. Performing a mix of jazz standards and songs from the Great American Songbook, the musicians attracted an appreciative crowd to their small side stage that grew each day of the three-day festival, Aug. 4-6.  

“It was such an amazing experience being part of the music making that happened that day, even in a small way,” said Marzan, a second-year graduate student in jazz performance. “The audience was so supportive and attentive to what was happening on stage, reacting to musical moments and interacting with us after our performances.”

The 25-minute set included Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny,” sung by junior Ricki Rizzo; Christian McBride’s “The Shade of the Cedar Tree,” with graduate student Luis Nunez soloing on trombone; Billy Eckstine’s “I Want to Talk About You,” with junior Jude LaRoche on tenor sax; and Pee Wee Ellis’ “The Chicken,” featuring the rhythm section of junior Mason Tucker on piano, seniors Andrew Dyson on drums and Wyatt Crosby on bass.

“They really performed well,” said Atla DeChamplain, professor of amplified voice who, along with URI jazz program director Emmett Goods, advised the students for the Newport shows. “You could see how proud the students were of each other in the way they supported one another both musically and off stage.”

Along with performing, the students were able to hear some of the best jazz musicians in the business during the festival, noted DeChamplain, and, as fellow artists, had access to backstage areas and met many of the musicians.

Marzan, who performed at the festival in 2019 with URI’s Big Band and attended the festival a couple of times while growing up in Providence, got to meet some of his favorite musicians, including Branford Marsalis, Kurt Elling, Christian McBride and Ravi Coltrane.

“It was really nice to see how kind and warm these great artists were,” said Marzan. “They greeted us with hugs and smiles. I don’t think there was a single artist I met who didn’t ask my name and a little about who I am and what I do.”

“My hope is that my peers and future music students at the University are able to experience these great artists,” he added. “Even through master classes at the University.”

—By Anthony LaRoche