It was one of those extremely warm days we sometimes get in early June. As I strolled on Appian Way toward the Student Center on June 2, a little jazz elegantly floated through the air, and I paused to appreciate how beautifully jazz and early summer go together.
To see so many people come together of their own choosing simply because they love playing music was inspirational. William Pardus, professor emeritus of music and founding director (1970-92) of the KSC Jazz Ensemble, and Don Baldini, artist-in-residence and director since 1993, took turns leading the assembled players in the Night Owl Café. It would have been easy for the directors and the reunited ensemble members to rest on their laurels, to be content with less than perfect. Near the end of a rich, multitextured instrumental rendition of the Beatles' "Hey Jude," notes were missed and the finish was a bit ragged. The crowd began to applaud, as the rest of it had been so good and so moving. But Pardus said, "We're not finished yet!," and the band picked up where it had briefly fallen apart and continued on to a polished, powerful finale.
That is what makes Keene State's Jazz Ensemble so beloved: no matter what year, what group of students, they give it their all. That afternoon, 30 performers played for more than four hours, with more than 50 people attending the performance. Among those spotted performing were Steve Armstrong, Larry Brown, Dennis Cote, Donna Dearth, John Devlin, Matt Doiron, Jason Holmes, Stephanie Hurley, Phil Martin, Jim Murphy, Jim Stewart, Samantha Stewart, Dave Taylor, Anneka Toomey, Mike Wakefield, Chrissy Walker, Chris Weber, Nancy Whitaker, and Gail Silver Wood.
There were a few ringers, too – music department chair Craig Sylvern, concert band director Jim Chesebrough, and adjunct instructor Scott Mullett sat in. One well-known audience member, Doug Nelson (former chair of the Music Department and KSC professor for 35 years), let everyone know that William Pardus would receive the Outstanding Service Award at the Alumni Dinner.
B. J. Thomas, one of the reunion's key organizers, used to play alto saxophone in the ensemble; this time around, she was too busy helping others get on stage and keeping tabs on the crowd's comings and goings to perform herself. She put an incredible amount of work and love into this event, but stressed that it was truly a group effort. "The Jazz Ensemble has had only two directors in 37 years, and both helped to organize the event as well as conduct," she said. "Huge thanks go out to Bill Pardus, Don Baldini, Steve Armstrong, Scott Mullett, Stephanie Hurley, and Mike Wakefield, and to Jeff LaValley and Kay MacLean from the Alumni Office, for making this possible!"
B. J. summed up the afternoon for everyone: "Being a member of the KSC Jazz Ensemble in the '70s was the best time of my young life. These people are like family, and it has been way too long since we have seen one another. And yet, it almost seems like no time has passed."
A Brief History of the
KSC Jazz Ensemble
Professor William D. Pardus founded the KSC Jazz Ensemble in the fall of 1970, when the large incoming freshman class of 1970 provided a critical mass of musicians. The ensemble's first public performance was at a high school visitation day held by the Admissions Office in the fall of 1971. In 1973, the group was invited to perform at the Music Educators National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. A full house at the Copley Plaza Hotel gave the Jazz Ensemble a standing ovation at the end of the performance, launching the KSC band as one of the finest college jazz ensembles in New England. Over the next two decades, the ensemble toured in every New England state, inspired a generation of high school jazz players, and performed (in 1976) at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., broadcast live over the Voice of America Network to Eastern Europe.
In 1993, Pardus passed the directorship of the KSC Jazz Ensemble to Don Baldini, artist-in-residence at Keene State. The ensemble continues to perform at sold-out concerts in the Redfern Arts Center on Brickyard Pond. Keep up to date on the Jazz Ensemble's new season at www.keene.edu/racbp.
William D. Pardus, a native of Connecticut, has performed professionally as a dance band and jazz keyboardist since the age of 14. He holds a degree from the University of Connecticut and has also studied at the Hartford Conservatory of Music, Hartt College (University of Hartford), and Wesleyan University. During his tenure at Keene State College, he was also active as a guest conductor and adjudicator throughout the Northeast. As a composer, arranger, editor, and publisher, he has 44 titles in publication – mostly works for brass, wind, percussion, and band. He has also composed numerous electronic scores for the KSC Dance Department.
Don Baldini, a bassist, came to Keene State College in 1992 after a professional career as a studio musician in Los Angeles. He appeared for 13 years with The Tonight Show Orchestra and toured with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, and Harry James. Baldini holds a degree in music from Indiana University and did graduate studies at California State University, Northridge. In addition to directing the KSC Jazz Ensemble, he is conductor of the KSC Chamber Orchestra and teaches music theory and jazz history at Keene State.
Prof. Jim Chesebrough