Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Music Department Graduates Join Forces and Land Big Break

PJ Rasmussen ’13 and the members of Boardwalk Jazz are stars of soon-to-be nationally televised special

Opportunity knocked, in a smooth be-bop style, and PJ Rasmussen ‘13 answered.

Boardwalk Jazz, the 21-member big band of which Rasmussen is founder and frontman, recently recorded an hour-long holiday music television special that will be aired on more than 160 stations nationwide. “An American Christmas” will be available to 91 percent of American households and approximately one million people are expected to tune in. (Check TV listings here.) CBS will carry the special in the New York-metro area.

The program includes fresh arrangements of Christmas standards such as “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night,” as well as two original songs that will make their debut during the broadcast. One of those original songs will feature a special guest: 90-year-old jazz guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Benny Goodman, to name a few.

Rasmussen was a jazz performance major at William Paterson, and he credits the program and instructors such as Paul Meyers, Gene Bertoncini, David Demsey and the late Mulgrew Miller with putting him in a position to succeed after graduation.

“They’re the best,” Rasmussen says of the University’s jazz instructors. “Everyone at Willy P was the best. Right now, for me, it’s very much a ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ type of thing. I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of great instructors.”

Of the 21 musicians in Boardwalk Jazz, 12 are part of the William Paterson University family.

  • PJ Rasmussen BM ’13 – guitarist, vocalist, composer/arranger
  • Collin Banks BM ’12, MM ’14 – trombone, composer/arranger
  • Charlie Dougherty MM ’13 – conductor, composer
  • Daseul Kim BM ’15 – bass
  • Abel Mireles, graduate student – tenor sax, clarinet
  • Eric Neveloff BM ’11 – alto, soprano sax, flute, composer
  • Dave Pollack BM ’10 – tenor sax, clarinet, composer
  • Richard Polatchek BM ’08 – trumpet
  • Joe Spinelli BM ’14, MM ’16 – drums, composer/arranger
  • Billy Test BM ’11 – piano
  • Kate Victor BM ’12 – vocalist
  • April May Webb BM ’15 – vocalist

Though she doesn’t perform as part of the band, also involved is Erica Seguine MM ’11, who arranges music and serves as fill-in conductor.

The band, whose members’ average age is well under 30, only celebrated its second birthday in September and has held a residence at City Winery, in New York City, for the past year. It is there the group spent two days being filmed for the holiday special. The fairly new, 21-piece ensemble stands out from other big bands in the NYC-area, according to Rasmussen, because his group carries four fulltime vocalists, and most of his music is written to include at least one, if not all four of those vocalists. Other big bands in the area tend not to include vocalists or carry only one part-time.

“We decided very early on that we were going to play original music and not just the jazz standards that everybody knows,” Rasmussen continued, further explaining how his group stands out. “I love that music and respect that music, but if you’re going to say, ‘Jazz is relevant today,’ and then play music from the 1930s, it doesn’t line up. Our message is:  Jazz is music that everybody can love.”

That message, he says, is one that he hopes viewers of the forthcoming TV special will warmly receive.

Rasmussen grew up in the rock and pop world, where the focus is largely on putting on a good show. He was exposed to jazz fairly late, he says, and quickly realized that some of the best jazz musicians in the world are often ignored because their performances lack showmanship and spark. Bridging the gap and bringing some pizzazz to jazz, he says, is what Boardwalk Jazz is all about.

“Most people, when they think about jazz, they think about it as a bygone thing,” he says. “I think about it differently – especially with the talent at places like William Paterson. I think jazz has a real future today. The musicianship and the skill is at such a high level that if you can just get people to listen, they’ll love it.”

Rasmussen, who recorded two albums both as a solo performer and as part of smaller groups, made the Jazz Week charts both times. Recording a big band album is next on his agenda, but just what the future will hold for Boardwalk Jazz after it makes a national debut is excitedly unknown.

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