The Hot Summer Nights Quartet never does the same show twice.
And even if it decided to perform the same lineup two nights in a row, audiences would still hear a different program.
“We improvise, so we could never duplicate what we played the night before,” Willis Delony says. “We may plan out a program, but we’re always surprised when we perform it on stage.”
Delony is the quartet’s pianist. He’ll be joined by trumpeter Brian Shaw, bassist Bill Grimes and drummer Troy Davis when the quartet opens its “Hot Summer Nights and Cool Jazz” series of concerts on Thursday, June 18, in the Claude L. Shaver Theatre in the LSU Music & Dramatic Arts Building.
The lineup of guest artists will be baritone sax and flute virtuoso Denis Diblasio on Thursday, June 18; trumpet virtuoso and LSU alumnus Rex Richardson in the “Trumpet Summit” concert on Thursday, June 25; and vocalist Sasha Masakowski with her dad, guitarist Steve Masakowski, in the “New Standards” concert on Friday, June 26.
Diblasio is the only newcomer to the series, though he performed with the LSU Jazz Ensemble in March.
“Everyone loved Denis so much that we asked him back this summer to play with us,” Delony says. “He played in Maynard Ferguson’s big band, and he was one of the band’s head writers.”
The quartet also will take time for itself.
“The June 19 concert will be the ‘Just Us,’ show, featuring only the quartet,” Delony says. “We were asked two or three years ago to do a show with just the quartet, so we did it last year. It was really popular, so we decided to bring it back this year.”
All the quartet members, with the exception of Davis, are professors in the LSU School of Music. The only rehearsal time put in for these shows is the hour before the concert begins.
That’s when they meet with guest artists, talk to them about what they would like to perform and then try it out.
“We lay out the road map, and the results are sometimes magical when we perform it on stage,” Delony says. “Sometimes it’s a surprise where the road takes us, and that’s part of the attraction in this series.”
Still, there are times when the group takes the wrong road.
“There have been a few times when we’ve questioned where we’re going in the music, but we’ve all been playing together long enough that we can find our way out,” Willis says, laughing.
“I think we started this series in 2000, so it would be about 15 years now,” he says. “Before we started, Bill Grimes used to play a concert called ‘Bill Grimes and Friends.’”
Now Delony is waiting for the first concert and the chance to create music through improvisation.
“It recharges the batteries,” he says.