Soothing jazz notes shifted across the cool and cutting breeze, traveling across campus from the lawn at Donaghey Hall as the UCA Jazz II Ensemble performed for a meager crowd of determined music lovers noon April 19.
Assistant professor of saxophone Matt Taylor invited campus community members to join him and music students for the Tacos and tunes event, encouraging participants to snag tacos from Twisted Taco before joining the performers on the lawn outside.
“We want to try to do more things around campus so that we’re not just stuck in our concert hall,” Taylor said.
Anticipating sunny spring weather when planning the performance, the group was met with temperatures 10 degrees below the historical average for this time of year and wind gusts upward of 30 mph instead. However unideal conditions may have been for audience members, the conditions actually helped serve Taylor’s ultimate purpose in scheduling the performance.
“We’re playing a jazz festival — the Arkansas Jazz Festival — with the first jazz ensemble on Saturday, and it’s an outdoor event,” Taylor said. “A lot of these students have never played outside, which comes with its own set of challenges.”
Taylor said the ensemble was hoping for a beautiful day.
“But it looks like it is going to be challenging playing conditions, which is actually kind of great for us because it gives [the students] the chance to experience this,” Taylor said.
Taylor asked to perform at the event, including adjunct instructor of music appreciation and music history Jaimee Jensen-McDaniel, who is also the creative and communications coordinator of UCA’s Community Music Institute, and staff member Ronald Jensen-McDaniel, who is the fiscal and outreach coordinator of the Community Music Institute as well as Jaimee’s husband.
Taylor and The Jensen-McDaniels all went to UCA together for their undergraduate degrees, graduating in 2010.
Taylor introduced Jaimee as the “Contessa of UCA” when she kicked off the concert, performing a cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”
“I’ve been singing since I could talk. It was something that I was always really good at,” Jaimee said. “And it is something that has always brought me joy.”
After Jaimee’s performance, the ensemble played “Happy Birthday” for audience member Steven Flores, who was in the crowd, supporting the performers.
Then, Ronald performed a cover of The Commodores’ “Brick House.”
Between Jaimee’s warm, controlled tones and Ronald’s funky stops and growls that had everyone, including Taylor, grooving in the crowd, the day’s chilliness was nearly forgettable.
The accompaniment of the jazz ensemble, on the other hand, was anything but, lending a larger-than-life feel to the live performances.
To further support UCA’s jazz students, the UCA community is invited to join them at their next performance which will be at the Arkansas Jazz Festival at Freedom Park in Van Buren, Arkansas, April 27. The Jazz I Ensemble will play at noon and the Jazz II Ensemble will play at 1:30 p.m.