OBU’s Mersey Beat Jazz Band enjoyed in UK

Originally Published December 16, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 14, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
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Craig Hamilton, director of bands at Ouachita Baptist University, standing in center, works with students during a music festival at Liverpool Hope University in England in November.

— Liverpool, England, perhaps the cradle of British Rock, did some swinging to the jazz sounds of the Ouachita Baptist University Jazz Combo during November.

“We had a blast,” said Craig Hamilton, OBU’s director of bands, after the group returned. “The people were phenomenal, our students were great and made us proud, and we got all the equipment over and back safely.”

The band, along with Hamilton, who is chairman of the university’s music education program and the Lena Goodwin Trimble Professor of Music, took part in the British

Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles Festival on Nov. 17 and 18 and conducted a clinic on jazz improvisation for a variety of bands from the Liverpool area.

It was the second time to be at

Liverpool Hope University for Hamilton, OBU’s newest partner in international education.

“I went there as part of a group that went there last spring to work out exchange programs between the schools and happened upon a band rehearsal,” Hamilton said. “They asked me to conduct, and the president of the university is a fan of jazz and asked me to come back for the festival.”

The combo includes Hamilton, who plays trumpet, and Sim Flora, professor emeritus of music at Ouachita, a trombone and flute player. B combo are Michael Curtis, a music major and bass player, along with drummer Zach Zucha, a business major; both are from Wylie, Texas. On drums is Chris Mazen, a church music major from Shreveport, La.

“Dr. Flora was unable to attend, so while I conducted the band clinics, the students stepped up and did the improvisation classes.”

Hamilton said the students showed how OBU sets up for improvisations based on chord changes in the music.

“Honestly, I was crazy nervous up front, since I had no idea what kind of players were going to be there,” Curtis said. “I was wondering if I could adjust on the fly and teach effectively, but things turned out great.

“The kids were great teaching,” Hamilton said. “What they did on stage in the concerts and how they acted around the [British] students while representing OBU — they are wonderful men and musicians.”

During its weeklong stay, the combo played four concerts in the area.

“With jazz being an American art form, we were definitely looked at as being the real deal,” Zucha said. “They were very interested in what we were doing and seemed to really enjoy the music. It made playing for them so much fun.”

Zucha called Liverpool a city with a rich musical community featuring all kinds of music being played in the area.

Hamilton said the idea that there might be relatives of John Lennon and Paul McCartney among the musicians at the festival did cross his mind.

“We did see Strawberry Fields and went down Penny Lane,” Hamilton said, laughing. “There really is a barber shop there.”

Mazen said he enjoyed meeting people at Liverpool University and in the community.

“We met an incredible piano player over there,” he said. “We made some great friends, and I am still in contact with them.”

Hamilton is already thinking about next year.

“They asked us to return, but we have not set a date,” he said. “We will have to bring a new batch of student musicians next year, since everyone along for this trip was a senior.”

For more information about the Ouachita Baptist Jazz Combo, contact Hamilton at (870) 245-5137 or email him at hamilton@obu.edu.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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