Western Connecticut State University music graduates Jonathan Blanck and Chris DeAngelis have reached the heights of the jazz radio charts during 2013 as performers on the Verve Jazz Ensemble's debut recording, "It's About Time," featured for more than three months since its release this spring on the national charts of the Web-based industry publication JazzWeek.
Blanck, a Shelton native who received a WCSU bachelor's degree in music with jazz performance concentration in 2005, has performed as tenor saxophonist with the Verve Jazz Ensemble since the group's founding in 2006. Bass player DeAngelis, a Naugatuck resident and 2003 WCSU bachelor's recipient in music who specialized in jazz studies, also was a member of the original VJE ensemble and returned as guest artist to complete the quintet for "It's About Time."
The recording, which also features VJE founder Josh Feldstein on drums, Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet and Matt Oestreicher on piano, peaked at No. 5 this spring and remained at No. 36 in the week of July 1 on the JazzWeek survey of most frequently played recordings on jazz radio nationwide. The July 1 survey marked the 14th consecutive week that "It's About Time" has reached the JazzWeek national charts.
Jamie Begian, chair of the WCSU Department of Music and director of the jazz studies program, has recognized Blanck and DeAngelis for their potential to become accomplished jazz musicians since their undergraduate days at Western. Begian experienced their artistry and professional skill first-hand when he invited them to join his own jazz group for performance engagements in New York and Connecticut.
"I can give none of my former students a higher compliment than to invite them to play in my band, and these two are among my favorites to play with," Begian remarked. "They're great people and great musicians, open-minded while rooted firmly in jazz tradition. They know how to play all the standards that everyone should know, but they also know how to take off from that foundation to become outstanding and original performers."
"It's About Time" marks the first CD recording by the Verve Jazz Ensemble, already well-known for their popular performances at jazz clubs in Connecticut and the region. Among the featured tracks on the recording are Blanck's arrangements of the Todd Dameron classic "Lady Bird" as well as a quintet adaptation of the big-band favorite "Big Swing Face." DeAngelis' performance on bass is showcased in the introductory solo to Henry Mancini's "The Days of Wine and Roses" and provides richness and depth to other tracks on the album.
"From bebop rhythms to sweet melodic ballads and swinging romps forged with exciting solo statements, the Verve Jazz Ensemble delivers quite an attention-grabbing first effort, drawing inspiration for an encore performance," wrote jazz critic Edward Blanco for the Web publication "All About Jazz."
DeAngelis has explored a wide range of musical stylings in jazz, rock, hip-hop and experimental genres in performance with VJE, The Breakfast, Kung Fu and other groups. "Chris is unbelievably solid as a bass player," Begian said. "He has unbelievable sound and great musicianship; he hears what you're playing and he's right with you."
Blanck has played tenor saxophone with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra as well as legendary jazz artists such as Funkee Boy and P-Funk, and established his reputation as a jazz arranger with VJE and artistis including Joan Jett and Joe Perry. Known for his skill at improvisation and nuanced sax performance in the jazz and funk genres, he has also become a mentor for many emerging young musicians. In his individual instruction, master classes and music clinics, "Jon has a great way of communicating with young people with musical gifts," Begian said. "He has the kind of ability that enables him to relate to them and make lessons fun, but also to teach them the fundamentals of music."
Begian credited DeAngelis and Blanck for providing the example of their performance skills and leadership as part of graduating classes in the first years of the new millennium who transformed the music program at Western.
"These two men and their classmates played a very important role in the re-emergence of our department and helped to make us what we are today," Begian said. "By their example, they remind our students today how valuable their education is, and how committed a person needs to be to work at their craft and follow in their footsteps."
For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.