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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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Big Band jazz ensembles offer captivating performance at SOhO

Claire Geriak
Cainan Birch radiates during his piano solo during his SOhO performance on Feb. 12 in Santa Barbara, Calif. Birch played piano for the three big bands that preformed that night, receiving a thunderous applause after his solos.
Chris Fedderson serenades the audience at SOhO Restaurant and Music Club during his performance with the Good Times Big Band on Feb. 12 in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Claire Geriak)

Surrounded by the excitement of nearby Santa Barbara Film Festival enjoyers, I found my way up a hidden staircase in Victoria Court. Although I’m familiar with SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, it always captivates me with its ambiance – dimly lit rooms, a lively audience, and eager performers. 

Soft orange lights beamed down on glistening instruments, and the chatter of an excited crowd filled the room as I finally made my way to the front. This evening’s event featured City College’s Big Band jazz ensembles, and I couldn’t have been more excited. 

The bustling noise within the club hushed as The Good Times Band harmoniously serenaded the crowd with upbeat trad jazz as though they were all one moving piece. Conducted by ​​Eric Heidner, the ensemble received constant applause.

Isabella Duncan shines under the light at SOhO Restaurant and Music Club during the Big Band performance on Feb. 12 in Santa Barbara, Calif. Duncan has played trombone for City College’s Lunch Break Big Band. (Claire Geriak)

From fusion to swing jazz, the sets beautifully combined brass instruments with drums and piano, transitioning between soft notes and danceable beats. Saxophonist Julio Longcob left an impression, performing many breathtaking solos.

Conducted by Ed Smith, the New World Jazz Ensemble followed. Beginning with a piece called “Uptown Rendezvous” by Gregg Karukas, this performance set the tone for the rest of the night.  You could never guess they only had two nights to rehearse, with the unbelievable coordination between performers and their conductor. 

Vocalist Angel Valenzuela blended seamlessly with the beautiful instrumentation. Trading soft laughs and enthusiastic glances amongst each other, it was apparent the band loved what they were playing. You could hear it in the music; alluring solos and clean transitions showed how prepared they were for the evening. 

By the second hour, I realized I hadn’t moved – nor had anyone else. The closing band for the night was the Lunch Break Band. Offering slightly different jazz styles, conductor Andrew Martinez led the first set with contagious energy. As the bewitching sounds grew, so did the audience’s captivation. On the piano the whole night, 16-year-old Cainan Birch performed impeccably in each jazz style. 

If there were any room to spare in such a filled venue, I am certain everyone would have been up dancing. Glancing around, you could see how difficult it was to stay still. Heads nodding with the tune, legs bouncing harmoniously, hands drumming along, and eyes completely lit up. 

Jay Real gets into the zone for his trumpet solo during the New World Jazz Ensemble’s performance on Jan. 12 in Santa Barbara, Calif. The composer has also played piano and other instruments during the numerous City College musical performances. (Claire Geriak)

A standout Latin piece called “Goombay Smash” invited the crowd in with its uniqueness and offered a taste of how broad jazz can be. Ending with easy swinging blues, a howling audience applauded for the inimitable performances. 

Almost three hours had passed, and I was utterly disappointed the show couldn’t continue. As I watched the crowd, I heard everyone commenting on how beautifully each band represented one of the oldest and most loved genres of American music. The opportunity to experience a performance like that was something I thought I’d never be able to do, and I felt my love for jazz grow.

City College’s Big Band Jazz ensembles perform again at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club from 7-9:30 p.m. on March 18. General admission is $15, and tickets can be purchased online or at the front door.

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