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Hot Nights, Cool Jazz: WCU's Criterions Alumni Reunite for a Free Concert

July 16, 2012

Jazz

Each summer, with only one day of rehearsals, more than 20 West Chester University alumni from the exclusive jazz ensemble The Criterions gel to deliver a free concert of big band, jazz and swing music.
On Thursday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m., the 27th annual Criterions Reunion Concert will fill Asplundh Concert Hall in Philips Memorial Building with the sounds of brass and sass. The free concert is open to the public.

Several generations of performers - alumni from 1948 to 2012 - annually take part in this celebration of musical camaraderie. Locals may recognize some of the players from popular cover bands such as Don't Call Me Francis and Chico's Vibe, or in smaller combos at the area's night spots, or in the region’s many community symphonies and orchestras. Many of the participants have Broadway and other theatre credits and a number of them remain in the region, having taught or performed locally - and are still performing.

  • Dave Heck of Morton, Pa., is the class of 1948 participant; he's been to most of the reunions, playing piano and arranging many of the selections.
  • Trombonist Lee Southall '64 founded the alumni ensemble and has most frequently directed the group in concert. He jokingly refers to himself and the other regulars as "grey heads." The retired WCU professor hasn't missed a reunion yet.
  • John Swana has become a jazz trumpet recording star on the CrissCross label with several CDs of jazz significance. He is also an adjunct jazz professor at WCU, Temple, and the University of the Arts.
  • James Zoller '69 and other Criterions alumni are the nucleus of players who perform in the Reading area's "The Last Big Band."
  • A few Criterions alumni have made names for themselves in military bands. Jonathan Virtue '05 is lead trumpet in the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band. Bill Smith has retired from the Air Force band and is returning from Belgium for the concert.
  • More Criterions alumni are music educators, including trumpeter Matt Gallagher '97, who is assistant professor at the University of the Arts, where also he coordinates and conducts concerts with the UArts Big Band and directs the Brass Ensemble and the High School All-Star Grammy Jazz Ensemble at The University of the Arts. He has also performed with professional bands and with Broadway productions and artists including Lou Rawls, Patti Austin, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Joni Mitchell, Barry Manilow and Bernadette Peters.
  • In addition to Swana, other West Chester faculty who are also Crites alumni include Terry Klinefelter (classical and Jazz piano) and Peter Paulsen (double bass).

The Criterions student band has been active on campus since the 1920s, when it was established as a dance band, making it the longest running university jazz band in the country.

Criterions reunion concert rehearsals take place throughout the day on Wednesday, July 18, and are free and open to the public, as is the concert on Thursday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m. Both will be in Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, Philips Memorial Building, High Street at University Avenue.