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

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 18, at 7:30 p.m., the 28th annual Criterions Reunion Concert will fill Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall in Philips Memorial Building with the sounds of brass and sass. The free concert is open to the public, as are rehearsals on Wednesday, July 17, and Thursday, July 18.

Several generations of alumni – this year from the classes of 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, teaching and performing.

This year, for the first time, these pros will be on stage with budding jazz musicians students who are taking part in this week's WCU Jazz Journey Workshop. The young talent will play a few numbers as an opener to Thursday's concert.

Among the Criterions alumni are:

  • 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 reunion 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.
  • James Zoller '69 and other Criterions alumni are the nucleus of players who perform in the Reading area's "The Last Big Band."
  • George Grund '75 is traveling the farthest, coming from Arizona. He's played piano, clarinet, saxophone, and arranged for the 399th Army Band and 3rd Infantry Division Band, plus played piano and recorded with the Rob Stoneback and Buzz Jones Big Bands, Simone, and blues artist Sterling Koch.
  • Like Grund, Jonathan Virtue '05 joined a military bands and is lead trumpet in the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band.
  • 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.

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.