Sparky’s Jazz Express performs for Arts and Resilience

By Roman Petrowski, Office of Communications
June 19, 2019

Students, faculty, and staff at McGovern Medical School were treated to an afternoon of smooth sounds, courtesy of Sparky’s Jazz Express, as part of the Arts & Resilience program on June 13 in Webber Plaza.

One of the top groups in Galveston, Texas, Sparky’s Jazz Express formed in 1980 when Sparky Koerner moved to the city to work for the Galveston Arts Center. In nearly four decades, the group has developed a reputation for playing at a professional level and has become one of the most respected musical groups in the Galveston and Houston areas.

Koerner, a trumpet player by trade was joined on stage by Tom Borling on the keyboard, Brian Casey on the bass guitar, and Bobby Adams on drums.

The Jazz Express began the afternoon with a swing tune from George Gershwin titled “Summertime.” One of the all-time classics, “Summertime” has been covered many times throughout the years, including some of the more famous versions from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, and Willie Nelson.

Koerner and the Jazz Express followed with a Miles Davis hit called “Four.” The song is a tribute to the jazz technique “fours,” which usually allows each member of the group to play solos involving alternating four-bar segments with the drummer.

The group changed things up with their third performance, playing a Latin bossa nova from Antonio Carlos Jobim. Jobim wrote “Girl from Ipanema” after watching a woman walk by while sitting at a bar, and famously recorded the song in English with Frank Sinatra in 1963.

Koerner swung to another genre, showing the blues roots of jazz music with a song called “Bags’ Groove” from Milt Jackson. The song gained notoriety when it was recorded by Davis’ quintet in 1954 and is a 12-bar blues song, which means it is predominantly based on the I, IV, and V cords of a key.

The Jazz Express featured a pair of different genres with the next two hits, playing Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are,” which appeared in the film “Broadway Rhythm” before moving on to Jobim’s “One Note Samba.”

The group slowed things down with a New Orleans tune from Louis Armstrong called “The Basin Street Blues” before transitioning into the bebop hit “Yardbird Suite” by Charlie Parker. The song was a tribute to Parker’s nickname, “Yardbird,” which he picked up early in his career. There are many conflicting stories as to how Parker earned the nickname, but the tale Koerner tells involves the band seeing a yardbird on the road in between shows and picking it up for dinner in the next town.

The group finished the performance with their version of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and Duke Ellington’s “Perdido.”

The next installment of the Arts & Resilience program is the final rendition for the 2018-19 schedule and features the World Doctors Orchestra. The event will be held Aug. 13 at noon, in the Fifth Floor Gallery. The program is sponsored by the Dean’s Office in collaboration with the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics. For more information and a schedule, visit the program’s website here.