Prakash Wright plays the piano at the Faculty Jazz Ensemble Concert. Photo by Robert Mohr (C’21).
By Robert Mohr
“This is the first of its kind, as far as I know,” Prakash Wright told the assembled crowd on the stage of Guerry Auditorium. Wright, teaching associate professor of music and a jazz pianist, and his bandmates, Kevin Gatzke on tenor saxophone, Alec Newman on bass, and Nate Felty on drums, performed their first concert as the Faculty Jazz Ensemble on the evening of March 4th.
Wright organized the concert to “make students aware that there are options for studying in styles outside of classical music.” Until recently, Wright said, “there was nothing really available for students who play in the jazz ensemble, we’ve had on and off teachers who teach orchestral instruments who could [teach jazz lessons].” However, three years ago the Music Department began offering saxophone lessons (taught by Gatzke) and added drum lessons (taught by Felty) the next year.
With a master’s degree in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas (the first school in the country to offer a jazz studies program, beginning in 1947), Wright is now in his eighth year at Sewanee. In addition to his classes as a professor, he leads the student jazz ensemble, gospel choir, and pep band. He has also released three albums as the pianist for the Kash Wright Trio.
Saxophonist Gatzke has both a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in Commercial Music from Belmont University. He also tours with Nashville-based jazz/funk/R&B band Dynamo. He has performed with musicians such as Toby Mac and Brandi Carlile.
Newman, a bass player from Nashville who does not teach at Sewanee, was recruited by Gatzke and Felty for the show. Newman is also a composer and is involved in many facets of Nashville’s music scene, ranging from jazz to reggage to Indian music.
Felty has been teaching percussion at Sewanee for 2 years. He also graduated from Belmont University with a master’s in Commercial Music. In addition to touring with the aforementioned Dynamo, Felty has drummed for artists like John Prine and Jeff Coffin of Dave Matthews Band.
The quartet opened with a rendition of “This I Dig Of You” from Hank Mobley’s 1960 LP Soul Station. Next was “Windows,” a composition written by Chick Corea and originally released with Stan Getz’s 1967 album Sweet Rain. Charlie Parker’s 1945 classic “Billie’s Bounce” followed, with the band then playing the 1930 show tune “Body and Soul” according to the revisions made by John Coltrane. The group closed out with the bossa nova adjacent Ceora, written by Lee Morgan and Roy Hargrove’s 2008 arrangement “Strasbourg St. Denis.”
As for future plans for the faculty ensemble, Wright said, “It would be nice to have maybe once a semester a concert that the faculty does.” He also hopes that future concerts could further demonstrate music faculty’s performance credentials and engage with community members.