The smooth notes of the saxophone and the rolling rhythms of the drums lit up Emerson Concert Hall on Saturday in a celebration of the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Art’s 10th anniversary, and over 30 years of the jazz experience at Emory University.

The Emory Big Band and the Emory Symphony Orchestra gave the annual Jazz Festival the electrifying finale that only the bluesy, velvet melodies of jazz music could. Guest musicians Victor Goines, Rodney Whitaker and Terreon Gully helped make the night even more exciting as they brought their expertise and their own jazzy flavor to the stage of the concert hall.

After a week of students and guests both learning from them through lectures and through listening to their music, hearing these talented musicians play together along with the students was a satisfying sendoff.

There was quiet anticipation in the air of the full house of the Emerson Concert Hall as the student musicians of Emory’s Big Band entered the stage, dressed sharply in black suits. The low strumming of a deep red electric bass guitar wafted through the silence as the students prepared for their performance.

Director of Jazz Studies Gary Motley took his place in front of the students to direct. The music was their introduction as the students sparked the first few deep, soulful notes of Dean Kay and Kelly Goodwin’s “That’s Life.”

The exciting first performance set the precedent for the rest of the show, and the smooth, sultry vibe of jazz music pervaded the concert hall for the next two hours. The deep notes of the electric bass added a pulse to the melody of every song, and the drums matched the upbeat rhythm as the Big Band played through Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind.” The saxophone shined as every musician who held the instrument handled its smooth, brassy sound expertly.

“So in case you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to the last 10 years – this is it,” Motley praised after the Big Band’s skillful performances.

As soon as the renowned guest musicians arrived onstage, the enthusiasm in the room rose. That excitement was soon proved warranted as Gully’s drums, Whitaker’s bass and Goines’ sax joined the Big Band in a performance of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.”

The soulful notes of Goines’ sax stood out from the low, flowing melodies of the Big Band’s playing, adding even more color to the already-colorful jazz music. Gully set a rolling beat on his drums that had many a head in the audience nodding along in time, while Whitaker’s bass gave that beat a low, thrumming pulse and gave the music more of the smoky edge for which jazz is known.

Many of the student musicians were bobbing their heads in time with the music, and every solo flowed so perfectly that the guest musicians often shook hands with the soloists after the end of the song. Together with the guests, the Big Band played enthusiastically through upbeat, spicy songs like Jeff Jarvis’ Bistro Latino, and slower, smoother songs like Carl Strommen’s “Strike Zone.”

Though every song played had the audience bobbing their heads and swaying in their seats, it was the premiere of Motley’s original piece “Enlightenment: A Journey in Discovery” that shined most.

The composition, performed by the guest musicians, the Big Band, the Emory Symphony Orchestra and Motley himself on piano, consisted of three pieces: Humanity, Change and Freedom.

Humanity began slow, smooth and melodious with a soothing piano solo by Motley and the Symphony Orchestra’s violins joining in to harmonize. And then suddenly, the song picked up into an upbeat, jazzy rhythm.

The music almost seemed like a language of its own as Motley’s fingers danced over piano keys and Goines’ sax sang in fast, powerful notes. Change was a passionate, slower-paced piece punctuated by the melodious notes of the flute, the romantic tones of the violin and piano and the brassy crooning of the saxophone.

Freedom ended the composition with excitement as the quick potent notes of the saxophone and the deep rumbling of the bass and the drums were followed by a harmonious piano solo by Motley.

The piece ended with a rising note by all of the musicians on stage, and the audience stood up from their seats to give a long, cheering applause for the beautiful music and the talented musicians who made it their own.

The music was not over yet, though. Motley and the guest musicians kicked up another fast-paced beat and started to play once more. The students watched with awe as Goines blew expertly through an upbeat sax solo that had his fingers flying across the golden body of the instrument.

Motley’s piano solo rivaled it with just as much enthusiasm and jazzy rhythm as his fingers fluttered and slammed down onto the keys in a melody that had audience members impressed.

Gully’s drum solo stole the show though, as drumsticks moved so fast across the set that they sometimes blurred, and a rapid rhythm pounded through the concert hall. Both the piece and the event ended with the expressive notes of the sax and the brassy chime of a drumstick on a cymbal.

After a long, loud and enthusiastic round of applause for every musician on stage, audience members were invited outside to celebrate the creation of the Emory Jazz Alliance. The Alliance, along with the support of the organization Friends of Music, will encourage the growth of Jazz studies at Emory, and raise awareness and interest for the music. With the Alliance in place, next year’s Jazz Fest may be an even more rousing success.

– By Coryn Julien