Westwood Jazz Orchestra Debuts With Vibrant Performance 

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  • Matching style. the trumpet section emphasizes key dynamics in their part. Each section of the jazz orchestra added a layer of distinct sound.

  • Pianist Cynthia Liu ’26 plays a rhythmic vamp, or repeated musical motif underneath the horn part. Liu was new to jazz music, like many of her fellow ensemble members.

  • Performing a solo, saxophone player Henry Sedberry ’24 adds flare to the primary melodic idea. All horn players were given a solo opportunity during ‘Jive Samba.’

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Faces aglow under blue light, students huddled backstage, moving to the beats of celebrated jazz standards while waiting to perform. Bringing back Westwood’s first jazz orchestra since 2001, the ensemble members performed at the RRISD World Music Festival held on Saturday, March 4 at the Stony Point Auditorium. 

Drawing primarily from current members of the band program, the group is composed of saxophone, trombone, trumpet, and vibraphone players, alongside a rhythm section. Finding students comfortable with drums, bass, piano, and guitar to form the latter section posed logistical challenges, but added to the depth of learning. Led by Mr. Dan Bechdolt, the students first familiarized themselves with jazz repertoire. 

“It’s been really exciting to see their growth,” Mr. Bechdolt said. “We started from ground zero, [with] very little jazz experience. The only students that had any jazz experience were my private saxophone students, but they had never gotten to play jazz orchestra. They seem to be really enjoying it, and they’re getting better every day.” 

Opening their performance with Jive Samba by Nat Adderly and arranged by Alan Baylock, clear articulation helped emphasize driving melodic lines with sharp staccato markings. Saxophones set up a repeated rhythmic idea in the beginning, later passing it to the piano, who sustained the distinct samba groove. Creating balance across the ensemble was a key focus through rehearsals. 

“Being part of the rhythm section was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” Cynthia Liu ‘26 said. “I’ve played solo piano before, but have never played the instrument as a part of an ensemble. It was certainly challenging at first, but I think we did really well, especially for our first gig.” 

Transitioning into a layered ballad titled Lush Life, written by Billy Strayhorn and arranged by Mike Kamuf, the trumpet students played on flügelhorns, creating a rich, mellow tone to structure the primary tune and make way for the saxophone. Drums introduced the bossa nova passage, spotlighting unique harmonies. The final selection, Gordon Goodwin’s swing piece called My Man Sam, highlighted the musicians’ sensitive playing, capturing the nuances evident in particular figures.

See the Westwood Jazz Orchestra perform at the Temple Jazz Festival on Saturday, April 1.