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John Hollenbeck to fill Wexner Center for the Arts with big band setup

Courtesy of Ken Weiss

Bands usually have a hard time keeping fans off the stage, not members on it.

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble is slated to perform at the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Performance Space Thursday at 8 p.m. in conjunction with the School of Music’s 36th annual Jazz Festival. 

Billed as too big to fit on the stage, the around 20-member outfit plans to perform old material as well as songs from its new album, “Songs I Like a Lot.”

John Hollenbeck said the traditional big band setup helps to standardize his original compositions.

“Otherwise if it was very strange and different then we could be the only band that could play the music,” the composer and drummer said.

The size of the band can be a burden as well, as he said they weren’t able to tour for the first seven or eight years because it was too costly.

Chuck Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center, said cost was what prohibited the band from coming to Ohio State earlier.

“I’ve known about his band for a long time and always thought it would be great to bring them, but because they’re such a large band it’s usually out of our price range,” he said.

Helm said the Wexner Center does not disclose the price of performers.

The band is too large to fit on the traditional jazz cabaret stage, which typically holds about eight or nine musicians, Helm said. Instead they have to sacrifice about 40 seats to accommodate the band. Helm said he considered the loss of seats before booking the band, but it was “an easy trade-off to make.”

Hollenbeck said he’s excited to be part of the Jazz Festival because attendees are more likely to be familiar with jazz.

“For someone who’s never played music or really listened to anything, it might be a little bit daunting to hear me the first time. But if they’ve heard some jazz and kind of understand it, it would be much easier to listen to,” he said.

He added those that don’t know jazz shouldn’t be intimidated by it.

“I’m trying to write something that’s kind of new and original and sounds like something you haven’t heard before, so if you’re trying to relate it to something it will be frustrating,” he said. “The main thing is I try to write music that’s enjoyable to listen to on different levels so you don’t really have to know anything. You can just sit back and as long as you’re open I think anyone could enjoy it.”

Helm said the Wexner Center is known for its intimate jazz setting, and the setup allows for the audience to connect and interact with the performers.

Hollenbeck said this connection is important to help make the audience comfortable.

“I’m just trying to help everyone be comfortable because for some people, they might be taking a chance on music in concert and they might feel a little nervous about it. Just by talking to the audience a little bit and being not so serious they understand that I’m just a normal person and everybody else on stage is normal and we just happen to be playing music,” he said.

Joshua Robinson, a third-year in horn performance, said even though he hasn’t heard the band before he’s excited for the performance.

“I’m normally a classical musician, but I love big bands,” the French horn player said, adding that he enjoys playing jazz solos.

Robinson will also be part of the stage crew for the concert and said the size of the band isn’t intimidating.

“It’s a lot of setup, but most of the time it’s not very stressful. They usually know how to run their own stuff,” he said.

Though this is the band’s first time performing in Columbus, Hollenbeck has performed at OSU previously with other groups and has more personal connections to the university.

“I actually went to college with the percussion professors at OSU. I’ve tried to (reconnect), they haven’t emailed me back,” he said. 

Tickets are $13 for students, $16 for members and $18 for the general public and can be purchased on the Wexner Center’s website.

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