Orchestra Jazzes Up Set With Popular Tunes

The stage of the Sharp Theater glistened with gold trumpets, trombones and saxophones on Saturday as the Westchester Jazz Orchestra played a set of pop and jazz standards for Ramapo College. The show, entitled “Westchester Jazz Orchestra Plays Pop,” included jazzy arrangements of songs from artists like Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles.

The Westchester Jazz Orchestra is a 16-piece contemporary band known for their jazz arrangements of Brazilian music and American pop. The band’s home is a few miles north of New York City, and they have been showcasing American talent for 10 seasons now. In celebrating their milestone 10th season, the band came to Ramapo to perform.

The orchestra was led by artistic director Mike Holober, who split his time between playing piano and conducting.

“We’re going to be playing a program tonight of music of all singers, songwriters and pop composers,” Holober said to the audience. “The identity of a big band is really determined by the repertoire that they play and in the case of tonight and really all of the concerts that we do. Everything that we play has been written specifically for us and our band and our soloists.”

Holober led the orchestra consisting of five saxophones, four trombones, five trumpets, a piano, a bass and a drum set through their musical numbers. Their set included songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and “Too High,” Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and “River,” Billy Joel’s “Lullaby” and The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Each song was lengthened and embellished to fit the band’s jazz standard. The arrangements were made by band members and non-band members alike.

“Some of the writers are in the band and some of the writers are outside the band,” Holober said.

As per most jazz performances, each song featured a few soloists. The soloists improvised for a few measures, showcasing their individual talent, before returning to the main tune.

The crowd was mainly non-Ramapo patrons, looking to enjoy a night of music. However, a few Ramapo students attended the show as well.

“Yeah, I enjoy jazz music to a degree,” senior Kyle Beach said. “I’m here for a class, Black Experience Through Music. We’re doing a lot with jazz. The show is good. It’s pretty mellow, some easy listening.”

Sophomore Shannon Jirkovsky attended the concert simply for the music, and enjoyed the jazz spin the Westchester Jazz Orchestra put on familiar songs.

“It’s nice to hear familiar music,” Jirkovsky said. “Although they altered the songs a little bit, you could still kind of sing along. Usually orchestras play unrecognizable music, but it was a nice change to have this orchestra play popular tunes.”

Visit the Berrie Center to check out more nights of music and comedy coming up this fall season.