Almost everybody in Utah likes the basketball Jazz, but not everyone knows what to make of the musical kind of jazz. It's not for nothing that some national sportswriter makes a plea at least once per NBA season for the Utah Jazz to give up their long-established, but culturally ill-matched moniker. On the other hand, Utah is not without its bastions of the finer, more melodic brand of jazz.
Utah Valley recording artist Sam Payne studied jazz at Weber State University in Ogden, where he performed with Sound System, the university vocal jazz ensemble. And though his popular folk rock concerts contain only a smattering of jazz and jazzy vocalizing, Payne has been making beautiful jazz music for the last three or four years with Savoy, the jazz band that will perform Saturday night at SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem.
"It began as the sort of act that we all played in when we weren't playing with our main acts," said Payne, who's also director of Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts in Lehi. Savoy has a rotating lineup that includes bassist and guitarist Ryan Tilby, drummer Bart Olsen, bassist Ian Camp and Payne's brother, guitarist Joshua Payne (who will not be at the SCERA show).
The band got its start after Tilby was talking with a corporate event organizer who wanted to book "a good jazz quartet." Tilby quickly volunteered himself without strictly clarifying that he did not, in point of fact, belong to any such quartet. As Payne put it, "Ryan got off the phone and thought, 'Gosh, now all I've got to do is form a band.' "
The name "Savoy" is just "a word with some jazz history," Payne said. (One obvious connotation is that of the Savoy Hotel in London where jazz greats like George Gershwin and Lena Horne once performed.) Payne said that the name came up shortly after the formation of the band itself: "Bart Olson came to a rehearsal and said, 'Hey, my wife thinks we should call ourselves "Savoy." ' "
People who struggle to wrap their heads around jazz, both instrumental and vocal, can still enjoy a Savoy show. "A lot of people hear the word 'jazz' and it's kind of a dirty word to them," Payne said. "They envision 10-minute atonal bass solos. That's not what we're about."
Instead, Savoy largely sticks to popular jazz standards, including both classical songs by the likes of Gershwin, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington; and more recent additions to the jazz canon from such tunesmiths as Paul Simon, Lyle Lovett and Sting. Payne said that the band also features a smattering of original compositions: "Some of my own sort of more jazz-oriented material has found its way into Savoy."
There's still time to make your plans for Saturday's Savoy show. SCERA publicist April Berlin said on Tuesday that tickets are still available. If you don't catch Savoy at the SCERA, however, then you'll probably have another chance.
"More and more often," Payne said, "when a concert series or event organizer says to me, 'What would you like to do? It's up to you' -- more and more often, I'm bringing Savoy."