Jazz It Up

URI Big Band
URI Big Band

The University of Rhode Island’s jazz musicians are on the road once again as they continue to demonstrate that they can play alongside the best musicians in the world. In August, the URI Big Band will make its fifth appearance at the most prestigious jazz event of them all, the Newport Jazz Festival, and some of the group’s members will also help to celebrate URI’s 125th anniversary with a concert series in five communities around Rhode Island.

Music Professor Joe Parillo describes the anniversary performances as exciting, intimate concerts featuring seven-member ensembles playing tunes from the Great American Songbook. “But our musicians are going to put a fresh take on them with dynamic vocal and instrumental arrangements,” he said.

Video: Alumnus Zachary Friedland ’13 composed an original work, “On Greens of White and Blue,” commissioned by the College of Arts and Sciences to celebrate URI’s 125th anniversary.

The performances will take place Aug. 1-4 in Narragansett, North Kingstown, Cranston, Westerly and Warwick.

“These community concerts are a really great opportunity to show the state what we can do, and how hard we work,” said pianist and composer James Himmelmann, a graduate student who will lead the ensembles. “The great thing about URI is that we are very dedicated, and we want to prove to people that we have the talent and drive that rival students at any music school.

“There is a certain fire when we play,” added Himmelmann, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music from URI last May. “When we play it’s like magic. It will be a big, robust sound that is going to make you want to move, get up and dance. Every time we perform we give everything we have to the audience.”

Himmelmann will also be among the 16 students and alumni performing at the Newport Jazz Festival on Aug. 6, his third time at the celebrated venue. “To perform on that stage and look out and see the crowd and the bay is spectacular,” he said. “But to then watch other renowned musicians perform on that same stage gives me both a sense of accomplishment and purpose.”

Parillo, a respected jazz pianist and recording artist, said the strength and visibility of the jazz program at URI, particularly the exposure gained from playing at one of the world’s legendary festivals, has attracted greater numbers of students from around the Northeast and the nation.

“Whenever we play in Newport, we hear comments from legendary musicians, such as, ‘Wow, what a great band. You must have a great program.’ People in the crowd have stopped me and told me our performers play at a professional level,” Parillo said.

And URI’s music ensembles play more than jazz. The University has a wind ensemble and concert band, a symphony orchestra and several chamber ensembles, a choir and chorus, and even an opera workshop. And That Ram Marching Band — yes, that’s its name — includes more than 100 performers who play at every home football game and will headline the 39th annual Woonsocket Autumnfest Parade on Oct. 9.

So get in on the act and join URI’s tradition of musical excellence.