November 1, 2017
Just six months after releasing their first jazz album, Bienen juniors Sam Wolsk and Louis Danowsky are gearing up for a local debut with their orchestra.
Wolsk and Danowsky, the lead trumpet and conductor of the D.W. Jazz Orchestra, will perform at Evanston SPACE on Nov. 9. The orchestra’s inaugural performance was at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola — one of the most well-known jazz clubs in New York — in August.
The orchestra will also feature other NU music students, as well as professionals from the local jazz scene. Wolsk said the current ensemble is “pretty different” from the band that performed at Dizzy’s.
“Just having had (one) rehearsal, you can feel (the professionals’) expertise when they play,” Wolsk said. “One of the things that surprised me about the sound so far is it blends very well. We have a 30-year-old who has been playing for 15 years sitting right next to a freshman in college, and it’s working.”
Wolsk said the “backbone” of the orchestra — the drum set and string bass players — has remained the same as the original recording.
Bienen junior Emma Blau, who plays trombone, said she has enjoyed watching Wolsk and Danowsky grow and become more confident musicians.
“They have taken on huge projects that take a lot of effort, determination and drive,” Blau said. “To see them achieve these dreams that I’ve heard them talk about from the beginning is such a beautiful thing to witness.”
Danowsky said the experience of playing at Dizzy’s gave him a lot of momentum, as well as a desire to move forward. The duo is currently in the process of producing their newest album, “Live at Dizzy’s,” with the tracks they performed at the venue.
“Once you play at a venue like that … it’s very encouraging when you try to approach new directions and new projects,” he said. “After such a successful gig … it was like either we do something with this or we just fade back into obscurity.”
Danowsky said he and Wolsk are living a “double life” that involves spending time in both New York and Chicago.
The two jazz scenes vary in many ways, Wolk added, including the types of musicians and audiences they attract. In New York, there is a distinction between jazz clubs that host larger ensembles and clubs that are for smaller “jam sessions,” Wolsk said. Chicago’s jazz clubs, on the other hand, are not classified based on their sizes.
SPACE is not a standard jazz venue, Wolsk said. In the past, it has hosted musicians like experimental artist Mappe Of and rock singer Five for Fighting. Wolsk said he thinks the more general-use space will bring in a more diverse audience.
“(Performing at SPACE) gives us somewhat of a guarantee that our audience is not just jazz fans,” Wolsk said. “If you want to be a really successful jazz musician, you have to show people who have different tastes why what you do is cool.”
As the group finishes rehearsing for its upcoming performance, Blau said she has had to enter a “different mindset” because it’s not being recorded for a live album. Venue aside, Blau said Wolsk and Danowsky are “incredible people” putting out “wonderful music.”
“They have these really complex moments, but it never fails to feel good,” she said. “That’s what speaks so highly of them, their music and their musical abilities.”