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Big Al and the Jungle Cats

Jazz group prowls into Taylor playlists

By Cassidy Grom | Echo

A one. A two. A one, two, three, four . . . five. A new jazz quintet, composed of seniors Jeff Janiszewski (bass), Joel Helms (trombone) and Chris Shelor (percussion), along with juniors Dan Clemens (trumpet) and Jon Warren (keyboard), faces some changes this year. They have taken a nontraditional approach to releasing their first untitled album by gradually introducing singles online.

The jazz quintet, Big Al and the Jungle Cats, pounced on the opportunity to form last fall and prowl for their own gigs.The majority of the founding members were in a jazz combo class and decided to actively search for their own gigs. The name is a homage to a certain Taylor music department chair.

“This is a bit of a secret,” Janiszewski said. “No one really ever knows (about the origins of our band name) because everyone is always asking who Al is. ‘Big Al’ is actually a homage to Albert Harrison, who is the director of the Music Department and runs the jazz band. “So we figured we would just throw his name in the title and (add) Jungle Cats because, why not?”

Early on, the band played in a variety of venues as a septet. This year, however, the loss of two of their saxophone players removed a woodwind presence. They will continue to play this year, still covering rock charts, jazz and swing, but the absence of woodwinds will give them a more Latin color and brass-influenced sound.

Instead of producing a full album, the band is slowly releasing a series of singles through its Facebook page. It is a suitable strategy for a pick-and-choose generation.

“People can listen to our music online; they can download it for free. Take what they want, leave what they don’t,” Janiszewski said.

The songs were originally recorded live at an event last spring in the Recital Hall. The idea was to give a taste of what the group had been performing for the 2013-14 school year. The live audience added the dynamic to perform such an improvisational art.

Since then, they have digitally refined and released two songs: “Work Song” and “Summer Samba.” “Work Song” is a 1960’s song by famous saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. Its catchy melody has a slight blues feel. The band members enjoyed this piece, because it showcased almost every member and gave them a chance to solo. “Summer Samba” brings the swing with a classic chill jazz feel.

Big Al members are particularly excited about their upcoming single “Have You Met Miss Jones?”

“It was a pretty difficult piece to learn,” Helms said. “The melody was very nice, but it was all the intricate harmonies throughout it. Overall, it was a crowd pleaser, because it sounded like real jazz and not beginner jazz.”

The group hopes to have a total of six singles available to listeners within the next few months.

As for Big Al’s future, the group plans to play for the Indiana Farm Bureau Banquet in November. They hope to perform some in-house shows to feed Taylor students’ growing interest in jazz.

“I think there has definitely been a revival in swing and in getting classy that has helped us,” Janiszewski said.

Fans can check out Big Al and the Jungle Cats singles on their Facebook page.


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