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

Each summer, with little more than a day of rehearsals, more than 20 WCU alumni from the exclusive jazz ensemble The Criterions gel to deliver a free concert of big band, jazz and swing music. And this year, it's a mini-reunion for the class of 1964, whose Lee Southall gathered his classmates and former players for the first Criterions Reunion Concert 29 years ago.

On Thursday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m., Southall again brings alumni together for the 29th annual Criterions Reunion Concert. As always, the event is free for the public, along with daytime rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday, all in Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall in Philips Memorial Building.

Trombonist Southall 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 music professor hasn't missed a reunion yet.

Several generations of alumni from the 1940s to the most recent graduates join Southall annually. 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.

Among those returning with Southall this year are his classmates Ernie Maxwell, a retired commercial pilot, John Meko and Bob Notari, retired music teachers, Frank Strouse, retired military, and the former director of the WCU School of Music Jim Sullivan '66.

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.