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  September 29, 2003

Award-Winning UConn Jazz Ensemble
Releases First Compact Disc

What's a recipe for incredible jazz? Take composer/arranger/pianist/edu cator Earl MacDonald, director of UConn's jazz studies program, and mix with a generous portion of his finest students.

Image: UConn Jazz CD

The result? The University of Connecticut Jazz Ensemble.

The group's special blend of sounds can now be savored on its debut CD, UConn Jazz, just released on the SeaBreeze Vista Record label.

A CD release party will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

"I believe this disc will send a message to the masses that wonderful things are happening in the UConn music department," MacDonald says. "The disc, coupled with our new degree in jazz, will most definitely help attract the first-rate students we compete for with other institutions."

A native of Canada, MacDonald left his job as musical director, pianist, and arranger for Maynard Ferguson and the Big Bop Nouveau Band three years ago to join the music department in the School of Fine Arts.

Since then, he has taken the ensemble on the road, winning top honors at the prestigious Villanova and Elmhurst Jazz Festivals, among others. He also has used his professional connections to bring top-flight jazz stars to campus to work alongside the students. These artists include saxophonists Ralph Bowen, Tim Ries and Dick Oatts; trumpeters Joe Magnarelli, Michael Philip Mossman, and Scott Wendholt, and trombonist John Fedchock.

The recording studio was the logical next step. There, MacDonald sought to capture the energy and excitement the ensemble generates during its live performances. Recorded in April, the 11-track CD includes performances by the big band, a dectet, and a sextet.

MacDonald not only supervised the recording sessions but also plays piano in the large ensemble and the dectet; composed three of the album's eleven numbers; and arranged seven. The other four arrangements are by UConn students Mark Obolewicz, Bill Longo, and Tom Thorndike.

The ensemble is enhanced on two selections - Victor Feldman's "Joshua," and Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n You" - by the presence of Jerry Bergonzi, one of New England's leading tenor saxophonists, as a soloist. Bergonzi will be performing with MacDonald's trio in the Jorgensen Gallery on Oct. 17, as part of a new jazz concert series.

Besides MacDonald - who plays a solo on five tracks - and Bergonzi, the band includes trumpeters Longo and Matt Owens, pianist Thorndike, saxophonists Obolewicz (alto, tenor) and Matt Janiszweski (alto), trombonists Alisa Worth and Nicole Hansboro, flutist Justin Sider, bassist Fran Ieraci, and drummer Ray Kingston.

The UConn Jazz CD will be available for purchase at the Sept. 30 release party. It is available online at, and can be found at the UConn Co-op and most major outlets where compact discs are sold.