For a baseball player, Yankee Stadium is considered hallowed ground. For those who love the world’s most famous paintings, a trip to the Louvre in Paris can fulfill a lifetime ambition. And for a jazz musician, taking the stage at Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center in New York City might be equivalent to finding the Holy Grail.
On March 14, Ball State’s celebrated Jazz Ensemble 1, the flagship of the University’s jazz program, had the unforgettable experience of performing at Dizzy’s.
Mark Buselli, professor of Music Performance (Jazz Studies) and director of Jazz Ensembles has taken Jazz Ensemble 1 to perform at the National Theatre of Costa Rica (2019), the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland (2017), and several prominent jazz venues and festivals throughout Europe and Asia during his 15-year tenure at Ball State. He says playing at Dizzy’s is “the pinnacle.”
“Many jazz musicians will only dream of playing there,” said Mr. Buselli. “The other places we’ve been are very prestigious, but we had to audition to be accepted. At Dizzy’s, we were invited to play, and that’s something we’ll always cherish. The jazz history at Dizzy’s can’t be found anywhere else.”
How it Happened
The invitation to play at Dizzy’s is connected to Ball State’s Centennial Celebration in 2018.
As a part of the year-long festivities, jazz great Dr. Wynton Marsalis was among several musical and theatre acts to play on campus. The contract called for Dr. Marsalis to stay in Muncie an extra day to conduct clinics for Ball State’s jazz ensembles.
And it just so happened that Dr. Marsalis was, and continues to be, the managing and artistic director at Dizzy’s.
“I had our kids play a few student compositions for Wynton, and also a few numbers from Duke Ellington since I knew he was a favorite of his,” recalled Mr. Buselli. “Wynton was impressed by our kids and told me in no uncertain terms that, ‘We have to get these folks out to Dizzy’s.’ And the rest, as they say, is history.”
No Students Left Behind
The invitation was extended for the Spring of 2020, but, like so many other venues, Dizzy’s was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic for several months. The delay caused a problem for Mr. Buselli in that seven of the ensemble members who played for Dr. Marsalis on campus in 2018 had graduated.
“Certainly, those seven kids deserved to go, but that also meant that at least seven members of the current ensemble would likely have to stay back because of cost and logistical concerns,” said Mr. Buselli. “Or at least that’s what I thought.”
Fortunately, the School of Music came to the rescue and insisted that the resources would be found for all current ensemble members to make the trip.
“I will always be grateful to the University and the School of Music for this,” said Mr. Buselli. “I laid awake many nights dreading to tell any of my kids they couldn’t take the stage at Dizzy’s.”
Cardinals in the Big Apple
At Dizzy’s, Ball State’s Jazz Ensemble 1 was accompanied by emerging vocalist and 2019 Theatre and Dance graduate Akili McDuffey.
“We were so grateful to have Akili join us,” said Mr. Buselli. “She’s a true rising star and another example of our collaboration with the Theatre and Dance Department. They have provided us with some truly fantastic vocalists over the years.”
Some prominent Cardinals were also front and center in the audience, including provost Dr. Susana Rivera-Mills; Dr. Seth Beckman, dean of the College of Fine Arts and professor of Music; and 2017 Music and Theatre graduate and rising Broadway star Kayla Davion.
“We were elated to look out in the audience and see so much support from the Ball State community,” said Mr. Buselli. “These are people that have a million other things to do but chose to share this moment in history with us.”
The Thrill of a Lifetime
For senior Jazz Ensemble 1 saxophonist Diego Balseca, appearing at Dizzy’s was a dream come true.
The Indianapolis native knew of Dizzy’s since junior high school and was honored to have one of his original jazz compositions included in the sets.
“If you’re truly serious about playing jazz, Dizzy’s has been on your radar screen for a long time,” said Mr. Balseca. “I would often dream of being on that stage but never really thought it might happen. So many very talented musicians will never get to
experience what we did, and there’s just no way to adequately express my thanks to everyone at Ball State who helped make this a reality.”
An Impressive Review
Todd Stoll, a jazz trumpeter and vice president of education at Jazz at Lincoln Center, recalls Dr. Marsalis’ excitement for the ensemble after he returned from his visit to Ball State.
“The Ball State Jazz ensemble was invited to play at Dizzy’s after a workshop with Wynton,” said Mr. Stoll. “He said to me, ‘Man, this band in Indiana was swinging. Let’s find them a date.’”
As for the show itself, Mr. Stoll was left very impressed.
“The show was fantastic, a mix of important repertoire by composers like Duke Ellington, as well as originals by the director and superb student arrangements,” said Mr. Stoll. “Ball State came to the Big Apple and put all the big city schools on notice: jazz is thriving in the Midwest.”