The first and the last: The University of North Texas offered the first bachelor’s degree program in jazz studies in 1947, and now Neil Slater, the third director of the program, is taking his last European tour with the school’s celebrated One O’Clock Jazz Band. He’ll be retiring in August after 27 years at UNT.
Through July 22, the band is playing some of the major music festivals on the continent, including the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Freelance photographer and UNT student Michael Climents is following the tour, blogging about it and posting his photos on Flickr. We’ll be highlighting some of his photos and some of the blog posts from band member/trombonist Sara Jacovino.
Hit the jump — the “One O’Clock Jump,” get it? a groan goes up from jazz buffs — for the first posts as the band travels through Switzerland and France.
Around noon on July 3rd, we met in Kenton Hall for our grand sendoff–coincidentally, July 3rd is Neil’s birthday– Happy Birthday Neil!
Neil Slater at Montreux
After some minor passport panics, we loaded the bus and headed for DFW. Our first flight took us from Dallas-Fort Worth to Frankfurt– an uncomfortably long 10-hour flight. The plane was atypically hot as we boarded and taxied the runway. I couldn’t wait to take off and have some oxygen pumped into the cabin (this had to wait). After about 20 minutes taxiing the runway (apparently the pilot decided to drive to Europe), the captain informed us that the brakes have become “too hot” because of the outside temperature in combination with the long taxi. The obvious solution: turn off the plane and wait for it to cool down– in the Texas sun!? 30 minutes later and about 15 degrees hotter, we finally left the runway. It took about an hour for the temperature to regulate itself– what a start to the trip!
After a connecting flight to Zurich, we drove through the winding mountain roads and arrived in the Swiss town of Brienz. Located in a valley at the base of several mountains and alongside a bright turquoise lake, Brienz is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever seen. This location provided a million photo opportunities as well as a gorgeous backdrop for our first European performance. We played a quick 30 minute set at the Brienz “Mini- Montreux” Festival, located on Lake Brienz directly across the street from our hotel. Our sound engineer Phil Bulla produced a surprisingly high quality recording despite the difficult playing conditions. Let me elaborate:
1. There weren’t enough stands for the band. We are 3 more than a typical big band, so we were short 3 stands. Guitarist Tim Goynes read off of a chair, Sean Foley (trumpet) read off of a low table, and Justin Stanton (trumpet) read off of a stack of milk crates. The remainder of the band read off of wire stands– which are less than ideal for supporting the 5-6 page charts that we typically play.
2. The drum set was rather “interesting.” The bass drum was huge, not to mention that the front head was torn and taped back together using scotch tape. I’m pretty sure that the drum heads on the toms were painted black to match the shells of the kit. Our drummer Ross Pederson worked a miracle: After removing the front head on the bass drum and carefully tuning the toms, the kit actually sounded pretty good!
3. We were all completely exhausted. In typical fashion, the band pulled it together and made it through the set. The highlight of the night was the evening celebration. According to our tour guide, Lake Brienze is filled by melted ice from the mountains– this seems logical considering the number of waterfalls feeding the lake. The water is extremely frigid– I know this from experience: Half of us decided to go for an early evening dip. Refreshing to say the least. After a quick escape from an approaching flock of swans, we wandered down the narrow village streets in search of an after-hang. Unlike the U.S., most everything in small mountain villages closes at 6 pm. Somehow we stumbled upon an open bar. We met locals of similar ages and mingled with them for quite some time. Jiri Levicek received a lesson in Swiss culture and showed great enthusiasm for national Swiss pride. (The One O’clock is a friendly bunch that manages to make friends wherever it goes) After a few hours of mingling, we retired to our rooms to get some much needed sleep.
Now, off to Montreux!
The band onstage at the Parc Vernex in Montreux
Posted by Sara Jacovino.
On the morning of July 7th, we woke up and ate our last meal in Montreux. The quality of the hotel breakfasts has always exceeded my expectations. I must have eaten about five croissants with honey– a breakfast staple that a good friend got me hooked on.
A great thing about Europe is the proximity of one country to another. A short bus ride landed us in the French city of Lyon, which, according to our tour guide, is the second largest city in France. The area where we stayed is very interesting (I love how that word has taken on multiple meanings). This part of the city is on an island between the Sohne and the Rhone rivers– and is just outside of the historic area known as old town Lyon. Looking back on the drive, I know there must be some reason that justified our crossing the Rhone river over five times. I’m just having a difficult time finding it. Needless to say, we became quite familiar with the bridges traversing the Rhone.
Our hotel left many things to be desired, therefore, I wasn’t at all disappointed when we boarded the bus in early afternoon and headed off to Vienne. The Vienne jazz festival takes place in various locations throughout the historic city of Vienne. There are several Roman ruins as well as various other historic sites. Before our scheduled playing time, we were able to wander through an old episcopal cathedral. I wish I remembered the terms from my high school humanities class so I could describe the Gothic architecture… oh well.
We played and recorded a concert right next to a big Roman amphitheater. This was by far the best performance of the tour so far — the playing situation was almost as close to ideal as we can get — although the sound guy still doesn’t understand the importance of running soloists through the monitors. A point of note: We played right after a group of outstanding high-schoolers from Utah who read off of digital music stands. Maybe the school will buy those for Kenton Hall???
Immediately after our set, we rushed up to the 9,000 seat Roman amphitheater to hear the evening concert from the Maria Schneider Orchestra. We sat very close to the stage and had a great view of the concert as well as the 2 giant projection-screen televisions. I can’t remember every song they played, but amongst them were some of my favorites: Concert in the Garden, the 1st Dance from the same album, Evanescence, Sky Blue, and Hang Gliding. The concert was amazing, just as I had expected (although they didn’t have a vocalist with them on this occasion).
After the concert we talked with some members of the band who we already knew, including Marshall Gilkes and Rich Perry. I met the tour manager , as well as Ingrid Jenson who launched into a number of tour stories. She also explained to me a few tour games they frequently indulge in that I was unfamiliar with. I have a feeling that being on tour with Maria Schneider isn’t any different from being on tour with the One O’Clock. Did I mention that we are tailing them for several other festivals?
We left the festival at the early hour of 11pm because of some European law that forbids bus drivers from operating after midnight– I don’t get it. Unfortunately, this made it impossible for us to see the headlining act, John McGlaughlin. Upon our return to the bus, we discovered that the driver had taken it upon himself to move our horns under the bus– this did not sit well with anyone in the band. Anger helps your memory at times. I instantly recalled how to speak fluent Spanish (our bus driver is Italian, but speaks Spanish- sort of) as I told him to open the bottom of the bus and explained to not touch any of our belongings. I realized that in my frustration, I told him I need to “look at my horn” rather than “look for my horn”-oops. Other people remembered some more colorful phrases.
Speaking of colorful: 2 blocks from our hotel, we encountered some locals (all while safely inside the bus) who revealed that they weren’t quite what they seemed. It was relatively early when we returned to the hotel, so we decided to walk around and take in the night life of Lyon. It was too late to go to a bar (everything, once again, closes very early) and the type of a nightlife we encountered certainly didn’t appeal to any of us– or at least most of us. 1st full night of sleep on the tour.