Aardvark Jazz Orchestra

They’ve been around, in one format or another, for four decades. They’ve released 11 recordings. Their founder, trumpet player and ordained minister and MIT professor Mark Harvey is very happy to label the 18-member Aardvark Jazz Orchestra eclectic, as far as both music choices and arrangements. That word also fits right in with the band’s name. “An aardvark is an eclectic animal in the animal kingdom, so we thought that would be a great name,” said Harvey. The New York native, who now lives in Arlington, grew up in joint atmospheres of music and religion. His parents were both musicians and both sang in the church choir. Harvey played trumpet early on, and had a life-changing experience when at age 13, he bought one of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band records. “It was the very wild band that Dizzy had in the late-1940s, and it sent me off in my direction,” he said. Harvey came to Boston to study theology at B.U., but never stopped playing music, and eventually wrote his bachelor’s thesis on jazz and religion. He’d been performing with a small brass group, but wanted to expand it, and in 1973 put together the first Aardvark, composed of 13 brass players and a rhythm section, for a Christmas concert of classical music, gospel music, and his own jazz arrangements. They only played at Christmas for the first six years, but by 1980, Harvey became focused on the group, putting together programs that would cover the gamut of jazz, from swing to Miles Davis modal territory, from New Orleans improvisational style to something by Duke Ellington. Other influences Harvey is proud to say might make it into his own compositions include Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, and Charles Ives. The band has ranged in size over the years from 10 members to 26, and they’re currently doing 6-10 concerts each year. “We’re not the typical big band in that very often we’re very, very quiet with just one or two instruments,” said Harvey, “and then a few minutes later we might have everybody roaring at full tilt. I like variety, and we all thrive on risk and adventure.” The newest Aardvark album, “Evocations,” was released in 2012.
(By Ed Symkus)

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