From the archives: Setting the tone
More than 55 years ago, the “Emanons” laid the foundation for a successful jazz program at Elon.
By Roselee Papandrea Taylor
For a jazz band that gave itself a fairly unassuming name when it started more than 55 years ago at Elon, the “Emanons,” or “no name” spelled backward, gained international acclaim for its performances across the globe.
It’s a distinction the group, which evolved into the Elon University Jazz Ensemble in the late 1990s, continues to have today with its many trips abroad. When the group was first organized in 1962 by then-director Jack O. White, it attracted many talented musicians. While it was technically a jazz band, over the years the Emanons played a wide variety of genres, including big band and rock, interpreting songs from Count Basie to Chicago to Maynard Ferguson. The group performed at venues ranging from high school and college auditoriums up and down the East Coast to New York’s Lincoln Center and at the Grand Ball for the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg. “For a group which has no name (‘no name’ spelled backward), they have made a name for Elon College and themselves,” according to a 1975 article in the Burlington Times-News.
In 1964, just two years after White started the ensemble, the band was playing at the New York World’s Fair and was asked to return as featured artists the following year. The Emanons was named an “All American Entertainment Troupe” by the U.S. Department of Defense in the early 1970s and was featured for a week at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico. The group received an invitation to the Montreaux Switzerland International Jazz Festival and represented the DOD in 1972 in a European tour. The ensemble also was considered special guest artists and received the key to the city of Dudelange in southern Luxembourg. They were the featured attendees of New York’s First Annual Brass Conference in 1973 and performed annually at Disney World for years.
When the band played on campus, it was mostly for athletic and annual events, including performances during Family Weekend. On occasion, the Emanons played alongside the “Showband of the Carolinas,” the former name for Elon’s marching band, which was also under White’s direction. Together the two groups performed pieces by Billy Joel, Chicago and Stevie Wonder. The Emanons performed and won awards at multiple jazz festivals, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Collegiate Jazz Festival and the UNC Wilmington Collegiate Jazz Festival. Many of the group members became certified music teachers and musicians after graduating from Elon.
When White retired from Elon in 1986, the Emanons had completed 23 tours under his direction. White, who was named professor emeritus, received the prestigious Elon Medallion in 1995. He was later named band director emeritus. Following White’s departure, Michael Lewis served as director for four years. Thomas Erdmann, professor of music, directed the group from 1990 until 1996.
Today, under the direction of Professor of Music Jon Metzger, the Elon University Jazz Ensemble performs its versions of standards, jazz classics and student arrangements. During Winter Term, the Jazz Ensemble embarks on a simulated professional tour, offering students the opportunity to experience life as working musicians. The band includes five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, and a percussion section with a piano, bass, guitar, vibraphone, drums and auxiliary percussion. A vocalist is often included in the ensemble.