Jazz and Gershwin fans alike will gather at 7:30 p.m. today at the Ford Center for a performance by the world-renowned Julian Bliss Septet. This year, the group is touring the United States with its concert titled “Celebrating Gershwin: A Stroll Down Tin Pan Alley.”
Composed of some of the most talented musicians in Great Britain and hand-picked by Julian Bliss himself, the jazz ensemble will dive into a variety of upbeat pieces by George Gershwin and other well-known Tin Pan Alley tunes, such as “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Embraceable You” and “Lady Be Good.”
This show is primarily comprised of arrangements by the musicians themselves.
“For this show, Neal Thornton (piano) and myself worked out what we wanted, and Neal came up with a framework arrangement. Then we got everyone together for a play-through and, in some ways, created the sound and final arrangement as a group,” Bliss said.
Kate Meacham, director of marketing at the Ford Center, said this performance will give audiences a beautiful snapshot into the Golden Age of New York jazz – the “framework for all genres of American music today.”
“As jazz music goes, these musicians are among the best,” Meacham said.
Despite being trained as a classical musician, Bliss said he found Gershwin’s technique of blending modern jazz and classical works enticing. In addition to the musical compositions themselves, the group will also interweave anecdotes about Gershwin’s life between tunes to show audiences where the inspiration for his music came from.
“It’s always fascinating to hear everyone’s ideas and put them all together. Playing with great musicians means that the tunes are always evolving and changing depending on the inspiration during the evening,” Bliss said.
This will be the septet’s second visit to Oxford after a successful jazz performance of the works of Benny Goodman back in 2016. Julia Aubrey, director of the Ford Center, said another performance was a no-brainer. When the septet was invited back, its response was an immediate “yes.”
The goal of this year’s tour is to share an effective live experience with the audience. Meacham also said that live performance is a collaborative act that lives only in the moment of the performance, despite the option of recording.
“Though you chose to come to something live, in the end, you’re sort of at the mercy of the performer’s setlist that they can always change on the fly,” Meacham said.
For the Gershwin performance, there are currently only three or four songs that have been confirmed for tonight’s show, and even those can change up until the performance.
Bliss not only encourages Ole Miss students to visit his own concerts but also spoke of the importance of supporting the live music of others.
“You can get ideas and inspiration from many different places and different genres of music. As for our show, this music is happy music. We always have fun on stage and hope that transfers to the audience, too,” he said.
In addition to the concert, Bliss also hosted a jazz and clarinet masterclass at 4 p.m. in Nutt Auditorium on Wednesday for all students or Oxford locals who wished to attend. Musicians had the opportunity to show a particular skill and have Bliss both critique and give guidance on their music.
Student tickets are $8 for all seats and can be bought at the Ford Center box office.