DURHAM — Jake Brunelle will be bringing his saxophone jazz licks to the big stage in Newport Saturday with the University of Rhode Island Big Band, which kicks off the second day of the Newport Jazz Festival at Fort Adams State Park.
Brunelle, a Coginchaug Regional High School graduate, will be performing as a member of the 19-piece URI Big Band which starts off seven hours of music with a heavy-horn section that consists of four trumpeters, five sax players and four trombonists. Brunelle, 20, has been spending part of his summer at URI preparing for the band's performance, including rehearsals this week. Brunelle will be in the frontline of the band, according to director Joe Parillo, director of jazz studies at the university.
"It's quite the experience," said Brunelle, who enters his junior year at URI later this month."You're in the front, so everybody sees you, so it can be a little nerve-racking." He said the biggest stage he's performed on was a Jazz of July performance in Stamford, a venue on the city's green.
Brunelle, who has been playing saxophone for 11 years, coming off rehearsals the past three days, related how he came to play the sax. "In fourth grade I was asked to pick an instrument for band and I picked trumpet, but they had run out of trumpets. So as it worked out, my mom went out and bought a saxophone so I could be in the band." His parents, Eva and Ronald Brunelle, both guitarists, will be in attendance for the URI Big Band performance, a 50-minute morning set that gets the jazz going at 11 a.m.
"My family's pretty much into music,' Brunelle said. "I'm the jazz musician of the family."
Brunelle said he took up an interest in jazz in the sixth grade and he was a member the jazz band at Coginchaug High. He cites among his musical influences, oddly enough, the late Miles Davis, a trumpet player. "When it comes to music, I like to sample everything. But first choice, it's Miles; it's just a stylistic thing," Brunelle said, adding John Coltrane and Charlie Parker to the list.
"We'll be featuring Jake on a couple of songs," said Parillo, who will be conducting the band in Newport. Parillo said the set of music will draw from original compositions from student arrangers, as well as some standards — "Old Black Magic," Parker's "Confirmation," and Nelson Riddle's "Nice and Easy," popularized by Frank Sinatra.
Parillo said the URI-Newport Jazz Festival connection came about when the parent of one of the URI Big Band students, a jazz enthusiast, contacted festival organizer George Wein in 2011 and the two discussed the formation of an educational summer jazz camp for musicians. That resulted in an invite from Wein to perform at the festival. "That put us on the main stage," Parillo said. The initial jazz camp was held at the university and now is held at Salve Regina College in Newport. Parillo, a pianist and composer, participated in the jazz camp last week as an instructor.
Brunelle plays a Selmer VI alto saxophone, and it will be his first time playing on the NJF Fort Adams main stage, which by noon will be a gathering of the masses as 10,000 concert-goers crowd the venue with Narragansett Bay and the Newport Bridge as a backdrop. "It's my first year doing it," Brunelle said. "I'm super pumped."