Davis High grads celebrating musical accomplishments, new albums

By From page A1 | December 13, 2011

Morgan Jones, a Davis High School graduate, plays "Concerto for Ornette" with the Juilliard Ensemble at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in New York City. Nan Melville/New York Times News Service

Morgan Jones, a Davis High School graduate, plays "Concerto for Ornette" with the Juilliard Ensemble at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in New York City. Nan Melville/New York Times News Service

Three relatively recent graduates of Davis High School — drummer Colin McDaniel, soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and saxophonist/pianist Morgan Jones — are celebrating recent musical accomplishments.

Colin McDaniel

A 2010 Davis High graduate, McDaniel is celebrating the release of a new CD “Skewed Reflections,” featuring his several original compositions, including the DownBeat award-winning “Skewed Reflections.”

Featured performers on the album are Mike Zilber (sax), Eric Jekabson (trumpet), Matt Clark (piano), Dan Feiszli (bass) and, of course, McDaniel himself on drums.

A CD release party is planned for 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19, at The Jazzschool, 2087 Addison St. in Berkeley. Tickets are $12 general, $10 for students and seniors and $5 for youths under 12. The album is available through The Jazzschool Bookstore, (510) 845-5373,  ext. 6, or by email at [email protected].

After high school graduation, McDaniel spent a year as the drummer with the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet, based at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. The group toured nationally, including an April 2011 appearance at the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre, backing pianist Lara Downes in a performance of a new arrangement of the Duke Ellington concerto “New World Coming.”

Elsewhere during the season, the group was the opening act for pianist McCoy Tyner, and performed for Dave Brubeck himself at Brubeck’s 90th birthday celebration.

“Being in the Brubeck Jazz Quintet definitely changed my outlook on music,” McDaniel told The Enterprise in April. “I have a deeper connection to music now, and it’s helped me with my compositions. I compose a lot.”

McDaniel is now studying at UCLA, where he has become a member of the recently formed Tim Lin Jazz Quintet.

McDaniel also will perform in Davis at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28, at the Brunelle Performance Hall at DHS, 315 W. 14th St., as part of an evening featuring DHS jazz alumni, including Jon Hatamiya (trombone), Neil Heaton (piano) and Erik Maroney (bass).

Tickets for that event are $10 general and $5 for students. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Davis High School Band Boosters to support the Jazz Band’s trip to New Orleans this spring.

Lucy Fitz Gibbon

Fitz Gibbon, a 2006 DHS graduate, sang soprano with the Davis High School Madrigals and was part of the Madrigals group that won the Best Chamber Choir prize at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in July 2006.

Fitz Gibbon went on to study at Yale, graduating in 2010. She was the 2010 recipient of the Louis Sudler Prize for Excellence in the Arts, the Wrexham Prize in Music and the Beekman Cannon Friends of Music Prize.

She had a principal role in the Yale Baroque Opera Project’s production of the Francesco Sacrati opera “La Finta Pazza” (composed in 1641, and thought to be lost for many years) and was a member of the Yale Scola Cantorum, singing under conductors Simon Carrington and Masaaki Suzuki.

Fitz Gibbon is heard as a member of the Etherea Vocal Ensemble on a new holiday season CD released in November on the Delos label, part of the Naxos family of labels, featuring English composer Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” John Rutter’s “Dancing Day” and several traditional carols. The album is available from several websites in download and in CD form, including the Naxos label’s website, www.naxos.com.

A reviewer from Opera News praised the group’s “elegant, nuanced reading of Britten’s score,” while a reviewer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said “the Etherea Vocal Ensemble lives up to its name, with some lovely singing.”

Fitz Gibbon told The Enterprise that “I really loved singing the Rutter because it was the first piece I sang in the Davis Children’s Chorale (under Rachel Kessler) back when I first began singing in junior high school.”

Fitz Gibbon is now studying in Toronto, Canada, at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. She will appear in the title role in the school’s production of the opera “La Calisto” by Francesco Cavilli (1651) in March.

“It’s a really amazing work and I’m really excited to be singing it,” Fitz Gibbon said.

Morgan Jones

As a boy growing up in Davis, Jones started on the piano at age 4, and on the saxophone as a fifth-grader at Valley Oak Elementary. As a Davis High School student, he performed on saxophone with the Jazz Band and on piano as accompanist with the Madrigals.

He graduated from DHS in 2006 and went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, then became a student at The Juilliard School in New York in 2010.

In September of this year, Jones got a “big break” in his musical career, in the form of a high-profile concert that resulted in a glowing write-up in the New York Times. To quote from critic Steve Smith’s review:

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to improvise freely on alto saxophone throughout the premiere of a concerto not only inspired by Ornette Coleman, one of the most natural melodists and distinctive improvisers in American music, but also actually intended for Mr. Coleman to perform. You should evoke the work’s dedicatee without merely mimicking his sound and gestures.

“Oh, and Mr. Coleman will be watching, amid an audience of his admirers and renowed jazz-world peers.

“Under the circumtances, you could feel that Morgan Jones, a master’s degree student in the Juilliard School’s jazz program, deserved a medal just for agreeing to play Carman Moore’s ‘Concerto for Ornette.’

“But Mr. Jones, whose biography notes that he formed his first jazz band when he was 12, needed no sympathy vote.”

Jones told The Enterprise that he got some advice before the performance — “Carman Moore and I got together, and we went to Ornette’s house, where we talked for a long time and played some pool, got out our horns and improvised a little tune. That was a pretty life-changing moment for me.”

Jones admitted that when it came time for the performance, “it was pretty daunting” to go on stage knowing that Ornette Coleman would be listening in the audience.

“Anyone trying to impersonate him is sacreligious,” Jones said. “I went into it with the mentality that there was no point in holding back. I let go of my ego and played what I felt like playing at the moment.”

The Times reviewer wasn’t the only one who liked Jones’ performance of the concerto.

“The composer was extremely happy, and I got some compliments from Ornette as well,” Jones said.

Coleman also gave the young man a bit of advice.

“A lot of people say, ‘It’s important to know who you are,’ but he said, ‘It’s important to know who you aren’t,’ ” Jones said. “He also told me that the most important note in the world is F sharp. I asked why, and he said ‘Because all the notes are F sharp.’ ”

Jones hopes to finish up his studies at Juilliard in May. After that, he might move to Paris, or perhaps Los Angeles.

“My ultimate goal is to be composing as much as possible, for film or TV. So I think Los Angeles is on the horizon,” he said.

Jones’ parents moved away from Davis while he was a college student, but he still comes to Davis from time to time to visit friends.

Jones also expressed his gratitude to his music teachers in the Davis area, including Bob Gonzales, Celia Cottle, Fred Lange, Karen Gardias and Rick Drager.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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