Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, hello smooth jazz!

Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor. Duquesne's jazz ensembles helped audiences remember when rock was young.

by Capri Scarcelli | a&e editor

March 24, 2022

On Sunday, March 20, the Duquesne University Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Vocal Ensemble “crocodile” rocked the night away to celebrate the on-going legacy of pop artist Elton John. 

Taking the main stage in the Power Center Ballroom, featured soloists dazzled audiences with  John’s storytelling and vigor, impressing many with classic hits and hidden gems alike. 

Beginning with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s opener, “Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding,” the night’s repertoire led the way with instrumental, wispy welcomings to the crowd, transporting the room almost effortlessly. Halfway through the piece, the background jammers became vocalists, and the mood was set for the rest of the night. 

Balancing heartfelt ballads with dance anthems, the crowd was alert, but never ready. From the crooning, swaying motions of “Your Song” to the head bobbing of “Saturday Night’s All Right (For Fighting),” the audience was immersed in the music and kept on their toes the whole way through. Whether a saxophone’s licks, a horn’s impressive upper register or a vocalist’s option-up in the chorus, the show was full of surprises.

Vocal soloists included Lindsey Vernon, Grace Furman, Nathan Sekela, Eamonn Mailey and Ryleigh Shoff. According to Shoff, senior music therapy and music education major, the jazz vocalists were able to pick the two songs to perform as solos. 

“I always loved ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.’ It was always one of my favorites to scream in the shower or the car or anywhere else. Also, ‘The B*tch is Back’ is my anthem, so how could I not do it?,” Schoff said. 

Donning bright, sparkly 70s/80s-esque outfits, Schoff said that a few of the soloists made a trip to Buffalo Exchange in the South Side to match the pop artist’s energy. Audience members joined in on the fun, wearing their sunglasses indoors. 

First year graduate student Alex Luketich was the show’s “Rocket Man” for the night, effortlessly plunking away at the piano. Studying jazz performance and jazz composition, Luketich was able to put his talents to the test by arranging “Honky Cat,”  “I’m Still Standing” and “Grey Seal” for the night’s performance. 

“If you listen to the originals on Too Low for Zero and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, you’ll notice there aren’t horns in it, yet we have a 22-piece band,” Luketich said. “It’s normally two guitars, the piano and Elton along with some bass and drums. I had to go through, rip through the original recordings and then write down the individual parts and add horns.” 

According to Shoff, the ensembles started preparing for the concert on Wednesday — a mere four days before their performance.

“We had an hour to rehearse on Wednesday, and we had a dress rehearsal at 3 p.m. [on Sunday],” Shoff said. “It was absolutely worth it though. It was so fun.” 

Director of Jazz Studies Mike Tomaro was the primary conductor, and is a renowned Pittsburgh composer and arranger. For much of the night’s repertoire, Tomaro was able to incorporate the skillsets of his ensemble and add those instruments to John’s pieces. According to Tomaro, roughly 200 of his pieces have been produced through the Hal Leonard Corporation. 

“It’s a bit of a commitment I enjoy doing,” Tomaro said. “I have pieces of mine scattered all around the world.” 

According to Tomaro, this event is recurring each March to give the jazz students an opportunity to expand their repertoire for their future careers. Past pop concerts have included covers from Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Sting, the Police, 80s pop and Steely Dan. 

“We pick the artists who have a great body of music, and Elton was the one this time,” Tomaro said. 

Tune into the Jazz Ensemble’s next concert on Tuesday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the PNC Recital Hall.