Last Saturday, as Camelympics was winding down, I threw on a coat over my Branford Biggie Smalls t-shirt and walked down to Cummings to welcome back Erik Caldarone ’12 and his new jazz group, ECG. You may remember Erik from one of his many performances around campus in previous years; he was a fixture at MOBROC shows, Jazz Band concerts and even the occasional Cro dance. Since graduating, Erik has been hard at work writing and rehearsing with ECG. I’ve always been a fan of Erik’s guitar playing, so I was excited when I found out he would be coming back to Conn.
I arrived to find ECG’s equipment set up in Fortune Hall. The house lights were down and the stage was lit mostly by colored Christmas lights. A variety of instruments were arranged on the stage: a drum kit, a piano, an electric keyboard, two guitars, a standup bass, two saxophones and a microphone for vocals. The band members had stepped out and the room was slowly filling. Several professors from the music department were in attendance, joined by a number of music majors and minors. It was great to see so much support for an alum from the department, as well as from the rest of the campus community.
ECG was greeted with applause as they took the stage. Erik took a moment to thank the audience for coming, and told us, “I want you to be as rowdy as you can. If you hear something you like, don’t be afraid to shout it out!” The first song started with a drum solo by drummer Eric George. After a minute or two, the other members joined in. The music was energetic and original, and had a great groove. Erik’s guitar had a clear, singing tone that cut through the mix without sounding harsh. ECG wasn’t afraid to mix it up – keyboardist Dan Joseph (brother of Kyle Joseph ’12) would sometimes sing improvised melodies with nonsense syllables, a technique known as “scatting.” During one of Erik’s solos, sax player Travis Bliss walked over and started playing piano. Everyone in the group was skilled at improvising; it was sometimes hard to tell what was written out and what they were making up on the spot. Most of the songs they played were written by Erik; one was the product of his studies at Conn.
One of my favorite things about jazz performances is seeing the players interact with each other onstage. ECG had great chemistry and I could tell they were having fun the whole time. Whenever someone played a tasty solo, Erik would cheer loudly. He spent most of the show laughing and smiling. The crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves as well. When Erik announced that the next song would be the last of the night, they protested until the band agreed to play one more. If ECG returns to Conn, I’d recommend checking them out – it was the kind of show that reminded me why I love playing music.