Seats were packed in the Redfern Arts Center’s Main Stage as Don Baldini directed his last Jazz Ensemble, featuring guest soloist Frank Newton on flute and tenor saxophone on Wednesday, Dec. 7, before his retirement at the end of the fall 2016 semester.
The Jazz Ensemble has been a part of the Keene State community for 26 years, beginning in 1990, and has only had two directors for the entirety of its span; Baldini himself has directed the ensemble for much of this time, said President of Keene State College Anne Huot upon introducing Baldini to the stage.
Before coming to Keene State in 1992, Baldini said he worked and toured with Frank Sinatra, The Tonight Show Band, Johnny Mathis and many other big names.
President Huot said, “Not only has Don Baldini worked with many talented jazz musicians in his career, he is one himself.” Additionally, President Huot said, “I can’t begin to count the number of students he (Baldini) has inspired.”
Baldini said, “I have worked with some of the best people in the business and you learn from all of them. You learn from the good experiences and bad experiences. I learned to not be late, be prepared and to be responsible for my instrument and my music; those are things that students struggle with early on and hope they can take away from working with myself.”
Baldini said, “It’s been emotional all semester, we (the band) have a real special relationship and it’s going to be difficult for them too, and I have told them not to count on me too much because I might have a hard time… I can’t imagine it (the performance) not being emotional for me.”
In between songs during the performance, Baldini said, “I am probably more nervous tonight than ever before in my life.”
About the performance, audience member and KSC music major, Nick Blitchington said, “I like it a lot… I really liked the second song, ‘Feels So Good’, it was great.”
Baldini mentioned that it is somewhat unusual for a jazz ensemble to feature a vocalist, however, he said he felt since it was his last performance, it was all right if he bent the rules a little bit.
The fifth song in the night’s set featured vocals by KSC junior Erin Conti. Audience member and KSC film major Madison McGrory said, “She was great, I thought her voice went really well with the instruments.”
Baldini said working with the students at KSC has been one of the most memorable experiences during his time at Keene State.
“It’s been a lot of fun… and bringing in guest soloists who are friends of mine, who work with and inspire the students, has been great too.” I feel good about it (the performance). The band sounds really good, it’s bittersweet and a little odd to be calling it quits, but I feel good about it.” said Baldini.
Fletcher Rice can be contacted at email@example.com