Displaying items by tag: Jazz Studies

Jazz music is taking center stage in Disney’s latest release, “Soul,” airing this week on December 25th.

As the movie premiere drew near, Visiting Director of Jazz Studies John Petrucelli got an unexpected (but very exciting) phone call requesting that he compose an original track inspired by the film’s themes and setting, of which Petrucelli has quite the intimate knowledge.

“I got a phone call from Nick Tarnowski at Allied Media who represents Disney/Pixar, and specifically helps launch new productions,” Petrucelli explained. The company was in the process of promoting ‘Soul,’ a Pixar animated film featuring the contemporary jazz community in New York.

“Nick had asked me if it would be possible to send me some shots of some of the key or pivotal scenes in the movie, and have me write something inspired by the general mood or ambiance of the film from my perspective as a contemporary jazz musician.” Petrucelli said. They wanted it in five days, to go out the day before the movie goes out. I decided it was time to put out a call to some of my current and former students here at the University of Utah.” 

Luckily, it wasn't the first time he had pulled such a group together.

He had assembled a band during the pandemic, a jazz quintet featuring a number of current and former students from the University of Utah School of Music. “Originally we had performed a tribute to Dave Brubeck Concert for Excellence here in the community here locally, which really ballooned. We reached over 70,000 people on that virtual livestream. I felt like they were ready and we went to the studio and recorded this really, I think, cool composition I wrote called ‘Coming Home’ which is inspired by the journey back to our main character’s neighborhood in New York,” he said.

They wanted it in five days, to go out the day before the movie goes out. I decided it was time to put out a call to some of my current and former students here at the University of Utah.

Our U musicians take the chance to shine. “Myself, Tony Elison, who is a recent graduate on piano, and Chris Petty, who is one of our master’s graduate students  — all solo in brief dialogues. So no one is taking a full length improvisation, but it is more conversational in an interlude moment of the composition,” Petrucelli said. Tony Elison and Chris Petty are respectively former and current members of the University of Utah's premier jazz ensemble, the Michie Jazz Quintet.  


The movie focuses on a talented pianist and educator who is stuck in certain ways. “He has this passion and love for performing jazz music and gets a remarkable opportunity to perform at  what is essentially the Village Vanguard — although it is not referred to that way in the film — but it’s one of the storied jazz clubs in New York and, really, the world. After auditioning and getting the gig, he falls through a man hole and has to find his way home. Without spoiling it, it is this really emotional story about trying to get back to where he came from and finding some friendships along the way.” soul

For Petrucelli, the whole ambiance of the film is deeply familiar. 

“New York is really where I came of age as a jazz musician. It’s one of the most storied cities in terms of the evolution and development of Jazz. And to start performing in New York when I was 12 or 13 years old was daunting in some ways but it pushed me, and everyone who came up with me during that time, to be serious and make strides in pursuing my individual artistry.” 

What a wonderful way to come full circle.

You can catch the premiere of “Coming Home,” as well as more interviews on KUTV at: https://kutv.com/news/entertainment/review-soul-12-22-2020

And if you need some jazz this weekend, watch "Soul," available on Disney+!

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Emeri Fetzer 

As members of the Michie Jazz Quintet, premier jazz chamber ensemble here at the University of Utah, reached their second and final year in their unique configuration, it seemed the right moment to mark their time spent playing together with something lasting, something tangible. 

Supported through an endowment generously made by the James R. and Nanette S. Michie Foundation, the group's five members had many wonderful opportunities to collaborate in a laboratory setting, and maintained a rigorous public performance schedule during the school year. As a result,  Anaïs Chantal Samuels (vocals), Evan Taylor (trumpet), Tony Elison (piano), Alicia Wrigley (bass, vocals), and Matt Wilson (drums) cultivated a unique and synergistic sound. 

“The thing that was the most powerful to me was to have a recurring group of people I love and trust and that we had the opportunity to have an ongoing journey over a long period of time...I really felt like I grew alongside Evan, Anaïs, Tony and Matt. I will miss that experience so much” 
- Alicia Wrigley 

 “As their coach this year, I encouraged them to document the sound and style of the group that they had forged together, as well as create recordings that can serve as samples for auditions, publicity, and for posterity," explained John Petrucelli, visiting assistant professor in the U School of Music.  

Before they all graduated (and before COVID-19 drastically changed their final semester), they came together to record. “My favorite part of recording the EP was being able to share that space with my friends during our final year at the University of Utah. We've all worked really hard to get to where we are musically and it was really nice to see that all come together and to have something documented that demonstrates our passion for music,” vocalist Anaïs Chantal Samuels reflected. 

As Petrucelli describes it, the Michie Quintet's EP is a study in contrast. "In the span of three compositions, the ensemble moves between multiple styles, meters, and soloists. Anais Chantal Samuels voice is featured on a wonderful old ballad entitled "Till There Was You," while Evan Taylor's arrangement of "Bloomdido" nods to the cutting edge contemporary jazz approach of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Adam O'Farrill. Alicia Wrigley and Matt Wilson have a wonderful rhythmic dialogue throughout "April in Paris," while Tony Elison's piano playing plays provocateur throughout the session," he said. 

“We had to set up a mad labyrinth of sound panels as we tried to minimize bleed between microphones. It felt like the adult version of building a blanket fort, and will be a mental image I’ll always remember,” described bass player Alicia Wrigley.

The experience not only resulted in a strong final product, it also taught them valuabe things about the music business. “I hope that our students have learned that at the heart of recording is the craft of negotiation. Between musicians, producers, composers, arrangers, studio engineers, photographers, videographers, we convene spontaneously and improvise the process as we go. Recordings highlight strengths and reveal weaknesses, leaving a remembrance of ourselves in a particular time, place and feeling, pointing to future musical ideas and passageways,” Petrucelli said.

Undoubtedly, the Michie Quintet shaped its five committed members beyond the classroom, bringing high level professional experience, and friendships to boot. 

“I can honestly say that being in this program has shown me how to act as a professional in music. I started this program in my second year and had no idea what I was doing or how to go about a career in music. From that I learned the business side of things which I now take on when working on gigs that I've booked outside of school,”  Samuels explained.

“Socially, I have to say that the Michie group has been the highlight of my college career. When I first joined this group, all of the members in the band were older than me and took me under their wings to show me all the things music has to offer and helped me build my confidence as a vocalist which was something I really struggled with. Two years ago before performances my stage fright would get the best of me and I really doubted myself but through time I was able to value myself.”

“The thing that was the most powerful to me was to have a recurring group of people I love and trust and that we had the opportunity to have an ongoing journey over a long period of time," Wrigley added. "So much of the work that we do is with pick-up groups—it both showcases our versatility and pays our bills. But playing with a recurring group, having a musical home to come back to and experiment in, that was special. I really felt like I grew alongside Evan, Anaïs, Tony and Matt. I will miss that experience so much” 

Check out "The Michie Sessions" here! 

Published in Finer Points Blog