Shelton native featured in jazz group’s hit album

Shelton native Jonathan Blanck is one of two Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) music graduates who perform in a jazz group’s CD that has reached the heights of the jazz radio charts.

The Verve Jazz Ensemble's debut recording, "It's About Time," has been featured for more than three months on the national charts of the Web-based industry publication JazzWeek. The CD was released in the spring.

Blanck, a 2005 WCSU graduate who earned a bachelor's degree in music with a jazz performance concentration, has performed as tenor saxophonist with the Verve Jazz Ensemble (VJE) since the group's founding in 2006.

Has worked with P-Funk, Joan Jett

Blanck has played tenor saxophone with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra as well as legendary jazz artists such as Funkee Boy and P-Funk, and established his reputation as a jazz arranger with VJE and musicians such as Joan Jett and Joe Perry.

“[Blanck] fell in love with the spirit of jazz and improvisation at the age of 12 and began playing gigs at 15,” according to publicity material.

Known for his skill at improvisation and nuanced sax performance in the jazz and funk genres, he also has become a mentor for many emerging young musicians.

Jamie Begian, WCSU music department chairman and jazz studies program director, said Blanck “has a great way of communicating with young people with musical gifts” through individual instruction, master classes and music clinics.

"He has the kind of ability that enables him to relate to them and make lessons fun, but also to teach them the fundamentals of music,” Begian said.

About the group

Another performer on the VJE recording is Chris DeAngelis, a 2003 WCSU graduate. DeAngelis received a bachelor's degree in music, specializing in jazz studies. The Naugatuck resident is a bass player.

DeAngelis was an original member of VJE but then left the group, returning as a guest artist to perform on “It’s About Time.”

The recording also features VJE founder Josh Feldstein on drums, Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet and Matt Oestreicher on piano. It peaked at No. 5 this spring and was at No. 36 during the week of July 1 on the JazzWeek survey of most frequently played recordings on jazz radio nationwide.

The July 1 survey marked the 14th consecutive week that "It's About Time" has reached the JazzWeek national charts.

Performing at jazz clubs

"It's About Time" marks the first CD recording by VJE, already well-known in the region for performing at jazz clubs in Connecticut and nearby states.

Among the featured tracks on the recording are Blanck's arrangement of the Todd Dameron classic "Lady Bird" as well as a quintet adaptation of the big-band favorite "Big Swing Face."

The  CD also includes a rendition of the Henry Mancini song, "The Days of Wine and Roses.”

"From bebop rhythms to sweet melodic ballads and swinging romps forged with exciting solo statements, the Verve Jazz Ensemble delivers quite an attention-grabbing first effort, drawing inspiration for an encore performance," wrote jazz critic Edward Blanco for the Web publication, All About Jazz.

‘Outstanding and original performers’

Begian recognized Blanck and DeAngelis for their potential to become accomplished jazz musicians since their undergraduate days at WestConn, he said. Begian had invited them to join his own jazz group for performance engagements in New York and Connecticut.

"I can give none of my former students a higher compliment than to invite them to play in my band, and these two are among my favorites to play with," Begian said. "They're great people and great musicians, open-minded while rooted firmly in jazz tradition.

“They know how to play all the standards that everyone should know, but they also know how to take off from that foundation to become outstanding and original performers,” he said.

Boosting WCSU’s music program

Begian credited Blanck and DeAngelis for providing the example of their performance skills and leadership as part of graduating classes in the first years of the new millennium, helping to transform the music program at WestConn.

"These two men and their classmates played a very important role in the re-emergence of our department and helped to make us what we are today," Begian said.

"By their example, they remind our students today how valuable their education is, and how committed a person needs to be to work at their craft and follow in their footsteps,” he said.