Story By: Ayooluwa Ariyo
On a school day in 2015 at Cheltenham High School, Bill Saurman, remembers hearing jazz music that captured his attention.
It was coming from the Temple University Jazz Band led by Terell Stafford, director of the jazz studies program in the Boyer College of Music and Dance. The song was an arrangement from “E.S.P.,” a jazz album by Miles Davis.
“I remember the energy and the sounds that came out of that band was just so energizing,” said Saurman, who is also a trombonist. “It was like a high. I wanted to be part of that energy so much. … That’s what got Temple on my radar.”
Saurman, now a freshman jazz performance major, is one of 17 students that play in Jazz Band Number 4, a jazz ensemble at Boyer. Saurman plays lead trombone with the group, and has also been part of several student bands that have played at South Kitchen & Jazz Parlor, a restaurant and bar on Broad Street near Green with live jazz music.
On April 17, Jazz Band Number 4, will perform at the restaurant, along with the New Orleans Jazz Ensemble, which is also a student group from Boyer.
Danielle Avicolli, a junior jazz performance major and a vocalist with Jazz Band Number 4, grew up listening to the music of her father, who sang jazz. But in college Avicolli chose to pursue classical music. She spent two years studying at Ithaca College in New York before transferring to Temple to pursue jazz in the fall.
“I realized I hated classical music,” Avicolli said. “So I auditioned and came here, and I’m very glad that I did. Being immersed in constant jazz and the feeling of jazz just makes me love music much more.”
Avicolli auditioned and became a member of Jazz Band Number 4 shortly after she got into Boyer’s jazz performance program.
“It was definitely a very good decision on my end,” Avicolli said. “I didn’t know how to sing in front of a big band, [but] here I’m developing skills to use my voice as more of an instrument, which is the whole point of vocal jazz.”
“I’ve been able to find a strength in my voice,” she added. “I’m more…confident in singing in front of a big band.”
Avicolli said South has created a “link” for Boyer students to go listen to live music by their peers and professors.
“I think South is the one [place] that Temple University pairs with most often…[to] listen to certain groups of students here who have gotten together and created combos and bands together and it kind of spirals and the connections grow,” Avicolli said.
Saurman said South often brings in great jazz musicians to perform.
“That’s definitely one of the few places where it’s got kind of a jazz thing going on,” Saurman said. “They have a lot more contemporary smooth jazz and funk guests in their venue, because that was the goal, that South is supporting contemporary jazz more than other places.”
He’s played at South a few times too with friends and colleagues. He’s also played at other jazz clubs in the city including Chris’ Jazz Cafe, The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts and the Kimmel Center.
South is a popular and respected jazz club among Temple’s jazz students and the Philadelphia jazz community. A number of independent jazz bands made up of students and faculty members from Boyer have played there.
Avicolli said Philadelphia’s jazz clubs are well known in the jazz community.
“I think, because there are so few that we all just respect them because that’s our source of income that’s our life,” Avicolli said.
Saurman describes the jazz scene in Philadelphia as “vibrant and beautiful.” He added that there’s a great history of jazz in Philadelphia, stemming from the influence of notable artists like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Martino and John Swana.
“Some people would [ask] questions like, ‘Is jazz dying?’ and really if you’re here in Philly, I beg to disagree,” Saurman said.
It’s important to Avicolli and Saurman to find gigs and play at shows off campus. It helps them gain real-life experience in performance that they otherwise might not gain in the classroom, they said.
“You’re also establishing yourself in the scene and if you play well, do all the professional things you’ll also start to gain reputation,” Saurman said. “People start to take notice and then that’s how you start getting more and more and work within this particular scene.”
“[It’s] also literally part of our education,” Avicolli said. “I think our education here at Temple is really, really important…but it doesn’t stop here. It continues on with our actual real-life gigs.”