The University of North Texas's renowned One O'Clock Lab Band maintains its uncanny aptitude for both timeliness and timelessness with the November 22 release of Lab 2019 (North Texas Jazz). The latest installment in an annual series that has continued since 1967, the album features six original student compositions, five of them by members of the 20-piece student ensemble, as well as two standards with new student-penned arrangements. In addition, it offers new work by two of UNT's jazz faculty members and prolific Lab Band contributors: Grammy-nominated composer Rich DeRosa, the school's Director of Jazz Composition and Arranging, and Alan Baylock, the acclaimed big band veteran (Airmen of Note, Alan Baylock Jazz Orchestra) and director of the One O'Clock Lab Band.
This 53rd recorded iteration of the Lab Band (named for its long-entrenched rehearsal time) finds the institution in danger of losing neither inspiration, nor its long-held place in the elite of collegiate jazz ensembles. " We want everyone to know that the great UNT tradition going back many years is still alive and well," says Baylock in marking his third year of directorship.
Baylock (below) is also an alumnus of UNT, earning his master's in jazz studies in 1995. Though he was not an official member of the One O'Clock Lab Band during his time at the university, he wrote 15 charts that were featured in the band's performances and on its recordings. He adds to that legacy with "Confluence," a startling and highly experimental piece that features solos by tenor saxophonist Addison Jordan and trumpeter Chris Van Leeuwen as well as musique concrète work by guitarist Ethan Ditthardt.
DeRosa is a legendary figure among jazz composers and has written a new piece for the One O'Clock Lab Band each year since his arrival at UNT in 2010. "Al-Go-Rhythm" ranks among his most thrillingly ingenious: subtitled "A 21st Century Take on a Gershwin Tune," it's an abstraction of "I Got Rhythm," recognizable by its chord changes and increasingly sneaky use of melodic motifs from the original. Jazz lovers will also identify it with the relentless swing that for DeRosa is as essential an ingredient as Gershwin's notes.
Ultimately, however, the One O'Clock Lab Band is an endeavor by, of, and for its student members, and their work on Lab 2019 rivals that of their elders for excitement and accomplishment. The complexity of trombonist DJ Rice's "Aggro" (which interlaces the harmonies of "Cherokee" and "Giant Steps") is exceeded only by the fun of listening to it; Rice also takes a solo of majesty and pathos on his sectionmate Nathan Davis's luxurious arrangement of the standard "I Can't Get Started." Student composer-arranger John Sturino, a former band member, shines with his sweetly hopeful tune "Frauenfeld" and boisterous setting of Styne & Cahn's standard "The Things We Did Last Summer" that features vocalist Marion Powers. Meanwhile, lead saxophonist Kyle Myers contributes three originals, cresting with the breezy, bluesy, meter-shifting swinger "Third Time's the Charm."
The One O'Clock Lab Band is the premier performing ensemble of the University of North Texas jazz studies program. It began in 1927 as the Aces of Collegeland, an extracurricular dance orchestra at what was then North Texas State Teachers College. It gained academic accreditation (as the Laboratory Dance Band) in 1946-47, when UNT established the world's first collegiate jazz studies program. When innovative educator Leon Breeden took leadership of the program in 1959, he recast the ensemble as a forum for the serious study of jazz, renaming it for its daily rehearsal time.
With Breeden as its director, the band performed at venues ranging from Birdland to the White House; toured worldwide; and in 1967 began recording its annual albums at the request of legendary Voice of America broadcaster Willis Conover. Eight years later, the One O'Clock Lab Band became the first college band to be nominated for a Grammy Award. (It has been nominated seven times in all.)
Pianist and composer Neil Slater succeeded Breeden in 1981, compounding the ensemble's success over his 27-year run. Slater was then followed by Maynard Ferguson/Doc Severinsen Band alum Steve Wiest; Stan Kenton veteran Jay Saunders; and Alan Baylock, who became director of the One O'Clock Lab Band in 2016, after a highly lauded 20-year tenure as chief arranger for the U.S. Air Force's Airmen of Note jazz ensemble and leader of the Alan Baylock Jazz Orchestra.
Alumni of the UNT One O'Clock Lab Band include Billy Harper, Bob Belden, Jim Snidero, and Ari Hoenig.
Gary Smulyan is guest artist for the One O'Clock Lab Band's 59th Annual Fall Concert/Lab 2019 CD Release Event, to be held at Winspear Performance Hall, Murchison Performing Arts Center, Denton, TX, on Tuesday 11/26 at 7:30pm. (Tickets: thempac.music.unt.edu ) Craig Marshall, longtime manager and producer for the band, notes that "This is a time when our fans really look forward to hearing the current band live and purchasing the latest recording in person."
The One O'Clock Lab Band will also be performing at Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, on Saturday and Sunday, January 18-19, 2020, having been invited to participate in the first Rudin Jazz Championship for collegiate jazz bands. Ten college bands will spend two days participating in workshops, a combo showcase in the Appel Room, and a friendly competition of big bands.