By Robb Murray rmurray@mankatofreepress.com

What do you get when you combine the precision of a tight jazz band with the acrobatic energy of a swing dance club?

You can find out Saturday when that combination comes to the Centennial Student Union Ballroom at Minnesota State University.

MSU’s Jazz Band is bringing back a once-popular event — the Jazz Ball — but giving it a “twist,” if you will. MSU’s Swing Dance Club will be on hand to teach people a few basic moves an hour prior to the 7:30 p.m. show time.

And, unlike many band events where the seats are filled primarily by band parents and students seeking extra credit for a class, the hope here is to bring in a big chunk of community members — especially folks who grew up going to jazz concerts and doing the Lindy hop or Charleston.

“I’ve played in a few (swing dance shows) in high school and it’s easily my favorite part of playing in a jazz band,” student Lude McGreavey says. “Especially watching an older couple get up to the stage slowly and, once we start playing, they lose 50 years off their lives and they just start throwing each other around.”

The Jazz Mavericks big band will perform a variety of jazz classics from the swing era including favorites such as “In The Mood” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

They’ll also perform a song called “Luigi’s Mansion” by the Vancouver-based 8-Bit Big Band, a song that closely mirrors the Benny Goodman classic “Sing Sing Sing.”

The band will also feature a number of vocalists, including music professor Stephanie Thorpe and members of MSU’s Maverick Fusion and Maverick Vocal Precision contemporary vocal ensembles.

MSU jazz band 2

Music professor Doug Snapp conducts his Jazz Band students. They learned about 40 songs for the Jazz Ball.

Doug Snapp, professor of music at MSU, said he threw a lot more music than usual at his young musicians.

“They’re reading tons of charts,” he says.

McGreavey agreed but said he was up to the task.

“It’s a bit of a challenge to learn three hours of music when we only meet three times a week,” he says. “It seems very professional. We don’t get a choice. We have to push ourselves. I kind of like the air of professionalism about this. You need to be in your seat at 2 p.m. ready to play.”

Abigail Shogren, who will sing with the band at the event, is a member of MSU’s Swing Dance Club. She said club members relish the opportunity to dance to live music instead of the usual recordings.

“Having this fun night is our main goal. If we get more people involved, that would be awesome,” she says. “It’s like exercise, but really fun exercise.”

The club’s membership is small, with about 10 people coming to weekly meetings. She says she hopes this event will raise awareness about the club and boost membership.

The Jazz Ball is open to students and the general public. Tickets will be available at the door ($7 for students, $15 general). Proceeds from the event will go to the Maverick Jazz Student Organization in support of multiple jazz student events throughout the year.

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