URI Big Band earns standing ovation at Newport Jazz Festival

Smaller jazz ensemble draws big crowds at community venues

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The University of Rhode Island Big Band performs for the fifth straight year at the Newport Jazz Festival Sunday. URI photo by Nora Lewis.

KINGSTON, R.I. — AUGUST 8, 2017 — Just like the refreshing breeze coming off Newport Harbor around noontime Sunday, the University of Rhode Island Big Band played it cool for the 500 enthusiastic fans who took in its hour-long set.

But the band also produced plenty of heat and energy as it performed for a fifth consecutive year at the Newport Jazz Festival. Individual soloists prompted loud rounds of applause, and when the show ended with the band’s performance of “Home Basie” by Bob Mintzer, the entire band earned a standing ovation.

“I’ve been walking around saying this is the best band around,” said Alan Sugarman of New York City, who was at his fifth Newport Jazz Festival. “We want a dance floor out here next year. If they do that, the area will be flooded with Lindy Hoppers (an international swing dance organization). “I would love to see them play in New York at Midsummer Night Swing (at the Lincoln Center.)

Isaac Ezer of Canada and Emma Barnes of the United Kingdom, who now live in New York and who’ll marry in October, couldn’t stop smiling as they danced to the music.

“They are wonderful and a joy to dance to,” Barnes said. “We hope they come to New York. They would be magic.”

From Bill Holman’s “Any Dude’ll Do,” to “Lester Jumps Out” by Bob Mintzer and from “Cute” done by the Count Basie Orchestra – and composed and arranged by Neil Hefti to “Beantown Blues” by Lennie Neihaus, the URI Big Band had folks tapping toes, swaying in their seats and dancing on the grass near the Quad Stage at Fort Adams State Park.


“Terrific, awesome, great” said Rhode Island Monthly Publisher John Palumbo, URI class of 1976. “They just give you a great feeling of URI pride.”

And for six of the musicians, it was their seventh show of the past week.

Pianist James Himmelmann, of Manorville, N.Y., who earned his bachelor’s degree in music from URI in May and who is now pursuing a master’s degree in jazz composition, led the URI 125th Anniversary Jazz Concert Series at six community locations, and wrapped up the week at the Jazz Festival. Some audience members enjoyed the community performances so much that they followed the ensemble from town to town.

“Sure there was fatigue, but once you start playing it all goes away,” Himmelmann said after the Newport show. “There is no fatigue when you love it. When we played at the Windjammer at Misquamicut, one woman said it was the best band she had ever seen. And today, it was great to see so many people enjoying our performance.”

HOT HORN PLAYER: URI Big Band member Manual Morales, of Wakefield, plays a trumpet solo as fellow trumpet players, Robin Hall, center, and Nicholas Schleyer, at right, look on. URI photo by Nora Lewis.

On trumpet, Manuel Morales, URI class of 2017 and a Wakefield resident, had the crowd shouting, cheering and applauding during his solos.

“I auditioned for the band as a freshman and have been playing ever since,” said Morales, who made his fifth festival appearance Sunday. He thought he could have played better, but said he is always his toughest critic.

“But the band’s energy was great and the music is outstanding. We love playing together,” Morales said.

Upright bassist Evan Magno, who also played the community and Newport Jazz Festival concerts, said he loved how the community shows built up to the Newport event.

“I was so excited for this, and you could tell everyone was into it,” the Cranston resident and URI Class of 2018 member said.

Trombone player Alyssa Oates of West Warwick and member of the URI Class of 2018, had the crowd applauding during her solo. She played at the Jazz Festival as a high school student, and this was her third year at Newport as member of the URI Big Band.

“It’s definitely up there with one of my great experiences,” Oates said. “Seeing all the people here is amazing.

Fellow trombone player Jeffrey Kimmerlein of Wakefield and a member of the URI class of 2020 was pleased with his mates’ performances.

“I definitely had the vibe that the band killed it. It was a great time,” said the international engineering student. “It’s awesome to represent URI in this setting.”