The Winnifred Smith Hall at University of California Irvine Jazz Show

was sparsely filled with a mixed crowd: students and other youths were sprinkled throughout the rows, though most of the seats contained more ripened individuals. On the dimly-lit stage sat a formidable relic: a black Steinway and Sons grand piano, played by generations of students and professionals. A sparkling flute sat beside the piano, perched atop the amplifier for a curvy blonde upright bass. A continuous murmur rippled through the crowd, making small waves in the sound barrier. 

The “Whinnie” has held many different types of artistic events, ranging from improv comedy to orchestra performances. Irvine is not typically a city that people associate with music culture, however, on occasion, there are performances by talented individuals that spark up conversation throughout the community. On the evening of February 4th, 2107, the Winnifred Smith Hall was to be filled with the melodically complex sounds of the Nicole Mitchell Ensemble. Nicole Mitchell emerged from the music scene in Chicago in the 90’s, and has been the recipient of many accolades, including the Jazz Journalists Association’s title of “Top Flutist of the Year.” The ensemble playing with her included Mark Dresser on the upright bass, Billy Childs on the piano, and Dwight Trible singing vocals. Dresser is a renowned bass player and composer and is Professor of Music at UCSD. Childs has been regarded as one of the leading composers of his era. He has received four Grammy awards, two for Best Instrumental Composition and two for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist. Trible uses his vocal abilities to allow audiences to transcend social barriers. He has collaborated with many notable musicians such as Oscar Brown jr., Charles Lloyd, LA Reid, and DJ Rogers. 

As the lights dimmed and the performers walked one by one onto the stage the chatter died down to silent anticipation. The hall was filled with cascading arpeggios after Mitchell cued the ensemble with a quick snap on the beat. Mitchell’s soulful, jazz-inspired playing was interspersed with eclectic passages and personalized touches. She mesmerized the audience by singing in between notes and pausing throughout the performance to direct attention to her fellow musicians. Childs’ fingers were light as a hummingbird’s feathers on the keys of the grand, and the sounds emanating from his instrument strung the ensemble together. His glasses sat atop his head while he alternated between reading the sheet before him and closing his eyes to feel the music around him. Dresser held the rhythm together on his glorious instrument, swinging his arm around to powerfully strum the strings of the bass. In a lithe movement, he would pull out his bow and stroke the strings a few times before slipping it back into its holster to continue with finger-plucking. Trible came into the performance after a few songs, and brought with him his vocal transcendence. His wailing, melodic voice burst into the hall and created a completely different other-worldly vibe.
The performance by these talented musicians seemed to end too soon, a quality that is shared by all pleasing activities. After a bow and a wave, the buzz of voices slowly rose in the hall and the individuals filed out. With a bit of luck, the members of this collective consciousness left with a different mindset than they possessed upon entering. 

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