Gerald Wilson conducts the Jazz Surge during the Jazz Masterworks Series
River Runs is the fifth CD released by this groundbreaking big band based in Central Florida. Founded in 1995 by it’s respected composer/arranger/conductor, Chuck Owen; the Surge has been described alternatively as “inventive, colorful, playful, provocative, and swinging”. While their first three CDs were critically acclaimed (JazzTimes journalist, David Franklin, included the band’s first release in his “5 best CDs of 1996”), routinely charted on jazz radio, and featured appearances from such jazz luminaries as the late Nat Adderley, Benny Golson, John Abercrombie, Ingrid Jensen, Tim Hagans: it was their fourth recording, A Comet’s Tail, that catapulted the band to the attention of a world-wide audience.
Paying tribute to the late, great Michael Brecker, A Comet’s Tail re-envisioned his compositions with arrangements from the likes of Vince Mendoza & Gil Goldstein, in addition to several by Chuck Owen. An star-studded array of guests (Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Mike Mainieri, Mike Stern, & Adam Nussbaum), all of whom had worked closely with Michael, joined the Surge in a spectacular recording which received a Grammy nomination as well as making many jazz critics annual “best of” lists (including being named the #1 big band recording of the year by the Brazilian and Argentinean jazz press).
The band has performed frequently throughout Central Florida. From 2005-09 they served as the resident orchestra for the USF Center for Jazz Composition’s “Jazz Masterwork’s Series”; backing a constant stream of renowned guest composers such as Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Chick Corea, Slide Hampton, Bill Holman, Jim McNeely, Bob Mintzer, Gerald Wilson, amongst others. In addition, the Surge has been featured on four occasions at prestigious jazz education conferences. In 2011, at the JEN Conference in New Orleans, the ensemble performed works from Comet’s Tail along with guests Dave Liebman and Randy Brecker. Two New York appearances included the premier of Chuck’s 2001 ASCAP/IAJE commissioned work as well reprising cuts from “Here We Are” with Ingrid Jensen and Rob Thomas in 2004. Other significant performances have included appearances at Festival Production’s Verizon MusicFest and the Clearwater Jazz Fest.
The band was founded in1995 by its Director, Chuck Owen, who initially conceived of a jazz repertory ensemble that might serve a region well beyond its Tampa base. He, therefore, adopted the “South Eastern Repertory Jazz Ensemble” or SERJE as its initial name. After the first few rehearsals, however, Chuck was so enamored with the personnel and thrilled with their interpretation of his music that he decided to claim it almost exclusively for himself. SERJE became Surge and for over 10 years the band performed virtually no music other than that of Chuck’s.
In 2004, another venture of Chuck Owen’s was launched – the USF Center for Jazz Composition. With the Center’s ambitious and broad-ranging programming, the need for a resident jazz orchestra was quickly apparent . . . and immediately fell to the Jazz Surge. So, in April 2005, the CJC debuted its Jazz Masterworks series. For the next 3 ½ years the Surge performed over 35 concerts, introducing audiences throughout Central Florida to classic jazz repertory while backing a continual stream of renowned guest jazz composers/artists. Included in this group were luminaries such as: Karrin Allyson, Randy Brecker, Chick Corea, Nneena Freelon, Slide Hampton, Bob Mintzer, and Gerald Wilson. During this same time, the CJC twice hosted the International Jazz Composers’ Symposium – bringing jazz composers from all over the country (and beyond) to Tampa for 3 days of lectures, workshops, concerts, and new music sessions. Once again, the Surge served as official ensemble-in-residence reading the compositions of over two dozen composers by day, while presenting the music of several of the featured guest artists – Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman, & Jim McNeely – in concert at night. However, the largest project the Surge undertook in conjunction with the CJC was the Michael Brecker Tribute project which ultimately, led to the production of “A Comet’s Tail”.
Backgrounds of the remarkable personnel of the Surge are as varied as their talents – the only commonality being their dedication to their craft and a list of personal performance credits a mile long! Most work as free-lance musicians. Six, however, are tenured or tenure-track professors (at 4 different Universities), one works for a prominent music manufacturer, and one is employed as an engineer! Like many great bands, the ensemble’s make-up has been incredibly stable over its 18+ years – with 7 of today’s band members appearing on its first CD (as well as every recording since) and only one position having changed more than once during that time.
What Others Have Said About the Jazz Surge . . . .
“NOT your mother’s big band!”… All About Jazz
“. . . the ensemble lets out all the stops to bring the session to a thunderous climax. A superb big band… Cadence, Jack Bowers
“. . . .a progressive big band playing at its finest.” All About Jazz, Dave Nathan
“ . . . .it never stops swinging!”… Mainly Big Bands, J. R. Killoch
” . . riotous and joyous. . . . . . it is spirit of the full ensemble that really stands out.” …JazzTimes, Scott Yanow
“The band is sensational. Their playing is cohesive, energetic, and absolutely in sync.”… Saxophone Journal, Billy Kerr