As the lights lowered on the Orpheum Theatre stage, shouts of “’baga” could be heard throughout the theater.
The last and largest of the Rootabaga Jazz Festival events manifested itself on Saturday, April 13 with performances by the Knox Jazz Ensemble and Ben Williams with Sound Effect.
The KJE opened the show, playing a total of eight pieces that featured a wide variety of musical styles and solos from a number of members.
One of the audience favorites was “How Did He Look?” originally by Gladys Shelley and Abner Silver. Assistant Professor of Music Nikki Malley, who conducted the KJE, described the bluesy piece as “very, very dark.”
Senior Lauren Peper was the featured vocalist, singing an ode of loss to a former lover who was with another woman.
Another favorite of the evening’s show was “Mr. Dynamite,” a piece that Williams had arranged for a larger band. For it, Williams himself joined the ensemble for the performance.
Along with solos from juniors Nick Wagner on the trumpet, Annaliese Lengerich on the tenor saxophone and Kyle Kunkler on the piano, Williams gave an impressive solo on the bass while the audience responded positively.
After getting a sneak peak at what was to come in the second half of the show, there was a lot of applause and cheering at the end of the piece.
Lengerich seemed confident with the ensemble’s performance.
“I think it went really well. We all worked really, really hard for it. I think that this year’s band is the band that synchronizes together the most,” she said. “We’ve been playing together for so long we all sync in really well. It’s cohesive. We’re on time, we play together, things don’t rush a lot. It’s really great. I love it.”
Performing on stage with a Grammy-winning artist proved to be an exciting experience.
“I died a little bit. [Williams is] so nice — he’s so just down to earth. We had practice before with him, and I felt really relaxed with him,” Lengerich said. Williams even “congratulated me when I walked off the stairs.”
After intermission, Williams and Sound Effect, his band, came on the stage welcomed by applause. After saying only “Good evening,” the band began their first piece. The tempo and mood of the music developed, ending on a slow and soft note.
Once the piece ended, Williams greeted Galesburg as a whole. Although he had just arrived in town on Friday night, he said, “I already fell in love with this town.”
He then introduced each of his band members, making jokes throughout. Next, Williams presented their second piece, an original composition entitled “The Dawn of a New Day.”
Before the band’s third piece, Williams asked the audience for their opinion on Stevie Wonder.
“You must be a fan of Stevie Wonder,” Williams said, claiming that this was the only prerequisite for coming to one of his shows.
The Stevie Wonder piece that the band played was called “Part-time Lover,” a song about infidelity.
“We’re not endorsing that behavior by any means,” Williams said. “It’s a good song though.”
By the time the band had finished their last tune three hours later, the audience did not seem ready for the music to end.
“I love the energy here,” Williams said. “I hope to come back soon.”
When the applause did not die down, Williams and his band came back on the stage for an encore, selecting a slow, sultry, melodic piece to close the night.
“I’m kind of speechless right now,” Oliver Horton ’12 said after the show. “I’ve got great things to say about every single musician up there. It was so sensitive.”
Horton came from Chicago to see this year’s Rootabaga Jazz Festival, and he plans to come back every year to see it again.
“I definitely want to come down here and support [Malley] because I think this is probably one of the best things about Knox College,” he said.
Some Galesburg residents seemed equally appreciative of the festival.
“It was like we were part of something very special,” Jan King said. “We just felt like we were right there with [Williams and Sound Effect]. I really, really enjoyed it.”
King said that Rich Wood, who joined her for the performance, was so moved at one point that she saw tears in his eyes. Since Wood had always had a passion for music, King believed that he would enjoy the show.
“It pulled me up and sucked me in. The whole evening,” Wood said. “What a joy that the school has brought to this community. So rich.”
For fast facts on the history of Rootabaga, click here.