Sound Around Town
by LABAN CARRICK HILL
in the life of UVMs budding Jazz Studies Program, where the teachers
can swing with the best and the students learn to take the musical chances
all hep cats must, secure in the knowledge that everybody appreciates
a sincere error.
One. Two. One. Snap. Two. Snap. Three. Snap. Then a pause, no longer than
a beat, but the silence seems to stretch, the absence of sound amplifying
the anticipation. The music erupts with a suddenness that suggests a record
needle set down mid-song. At once, the trumpet blares, the sax hums, the
bass thumps, the piano swings, the fiddle swells, and the drums go boom
boom cha boom boom cha.
The late October light is all but gone outside and theres a chill
in the air. Inside the Southwick Building, UVMs Jazz Bop Combo is
laying out a sweet rendition of Stan Getzs Early Autumn.
As the musicians concentrate on hitting their cues, they stand in a circle,
facing each other. The sweeping curve of the grand piano makes up one
entire side. The pianist Peter Krag, a freshman, turns his head to look
at the other members of the combo. Junior Ezra Lipp, barefoot with a scruffy,
thrift store style, sits behind a drum kit. Next to him, junior Tim Wilson
blows a hot trumpet. Freshman Justin Katz sways beside him as he plays
tenor sax, while senior Heather Kahill bows her violin. Finally, between
Kahill and Krag, graduate student Mike Burris plucks deep bass strings
in an easy rhythm.
As the tune comes to an end, Patricia Julien, assistant professor of music
and faculty advisor to the Bop Combo, looks up from her notes. Julien
came to UVMs Music Department last year and has become a key part
of the new Jazz Studies Program. Before arriving here, the flutist performed
at nearly every important jazz and classical venue in North America, from
Carnegie Hall to CBGBs, from The Kennedy Center to the Knitting
Factory. In addition to her performance experience, Julien is also a composer,
arranger, and has done significant research into harmonic relations. In
short, shes got the chops to make young musicians listen for answers,
but she turns the question on them first.
Katz expresses dissatisfaction with his transcription of Getzs tune.
The background arrangement seems too simple.
Sometimes you dont want to have the backgrounds too interesting,
Julien advises, because it will detract from the whole piece.
Several other students agree. Katz spins Autumn Leaves on
the CD player and they all listen, reconsider, and begin anew.
As the group counts down the piece, Julien quietly slips out of the practice
room, leaving the combo to work out one of the most important aspects
of playing together: communication.
About fifteen minutes before rehearsals end, Julien returns and
fields more questions. The musicians listen carefully to her advice, seeming
to appreciate her demanding, rigorous style. It is clear that Julien expects
everyone to be prepared and she assumes that every musician is working
toward a professional career, a level of respect that pays off in practice
Its late afternoon as students straggle into the Southwick Ballroom,
begin to unpack their instruments, and assemble on the three-tier bandstand.
Drummer Sean Marchetti lays down a beat while other musicians warm up
with scales. Though no one is consciously playing together, there is a
surprising unity to the sound of the trombones, saxes, trumpets, piano,
bass, and drums.
Alex Stewart, assistant professor of music, strides into the room with
a sheath of music tucked under his arm. He directs the UVM Jazz Ensemble
and is the driving force behind the establishment of the Jazz Studies
Program, which offers music majors a new area of specialization. Structured
like the classical music education, Stewart explains, Students start
out taking the same courses as the classical musicians. By their second
year they start to do more and more jazz courses and less and less of
the traditional harmony.
the four years that he has been at UVM, Stewart has worked hard to turn
this ensemble into a true jazz big band. Hes progressed from having
18 students (12 of them guitarists) audition for the band his first year
to the current line-up of 17 musicians, mostly brass, selected from the
48 students who auditioned. This year, just three guitarists tried out.
Nothing against guitarists, Stewart says, but you cant
have a big band with just guitarists.
Like Julien, Stewarts experience as a musician and scholar is both
extensive and deep. He has toured Europe and North America with the Lionel
Hampton Orchestra and has appeared at major jazz festivals throughout
the world. Before coming to UVM, Stewart was the director of Jazz Studies
at Long Island Universitys C.W. Post Campus, and is currently at
work on a book that draws on his years of big band research.
When Stewart steps up to the podium and opens his music, the band quiets.
He wants them to warm up with Thad Joness Little Pixie II.
On his motion they begin, but he stops them after just eight bars. You
need to take it slower. They begin again. Halfway through the tune,
Little Pixie picks up energy and the band seems warmed up
and in a groove.
Later in the rehearsal, Stewart takes the ensemble through a Duke Ellington
and Billy Strayhorn song, focusing on each segment separately. Youve
got to land together on the fifth measure, he tells the trumpets.
They nod. Once the section comes in on time, he then addresses their wah-wahs.
Youre changing the last wah-wah slightly. The trumpets
repeat this measure several times until Stewart is satisfied.
Credentials like Stewarts could intimidate, but he seems to have
a strong rapport with students. Bassist and jazz major Rob Duguay has
found Stewarts encouragement and advice extremely beneficial. With
the professors help, Duguay has sat in with Big Joe Burrells
combo at Halversons and started groups of his own, one of which
will play later this evening at the Radio Bean Coffeehouse downtown.
Duguay (who, together with Geoff Kim, Sean Marchetti, and Alex Toth comprise
the Geoff Kim Quartet), sees such off-campus pursuits as another key part
of his jazz education. The good thing about Burlington is that there
is a lot of opportunity to get real experience, he adds.
The jazz is downtown again tonight, but its the teachers turn.
The sandwich sign in front of Red Square, a hip Church Street bar, announces
the sextet Garuda performing at 9 p.m. So, of course, it isnt until
10 that the musicians begin to set up. James Harvey, the godfather of
the Burlington jazz scene, heads up the group which includes many of the
faculty of UVMs Jazz Studies Program.
On tenor sax, Alex Stewart; on piano, Tom Cleary, winner of the 1996 Concerto
Competition and a finalist in competitive auditions for the 1998 Kennedy
Center Jazz Ambassadors program; on trombone, Andrew Moroz, who has toured
nationally and recorded with the Trey Anastasio Band; sax, Bryan McNamara,
who has shared the stage with musicians such as Peter Erskine, Mark Minci,
and Ernie Watts. The last UVM faculty member in the combo is John Rivers,
whom Stewart calls the most skilled bassist in Vermont.
musicians on stage provide fine illustration of one of the truths behind
the rise of jazz at UVM. Key to the progress are many local musicians
with national credentials who teach at the University as adjunct faculty.
In additions to the members of Garuda, they include musicians like drummer
Jeff Salisbury, who is artistic director of Burlingtons Discover
Jazz Festival and has played in the Albert King Blues Band and performed
with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, as well as many other R&B and jazz
artists. Guitarist Joe Capps is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music
in Boston and performs throughout New England. Trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick
is a member of the Trey Anastasio Band and has just released a solo album
Garuda launches into their first set with driving, take-no-prisoners rhythms
that run the gambit of jazz genres from Latin to jazz standards,
from bebop to free jazz. Behind every song Harveys muscular drumming
defies the near-toy-like, cabaret-sized drum kit he plays in the tight
quarters on stage.
The groups music reminds listeners why jazz is the most egalitarian
of musical genres. Everyone gets a solo. On a Tom Cleary arrangement of
Cole Porters Youre My Thrill, trombonist Andy
Moroz coasts in and out of the written and improvised passages, picking
up the melody, toying with it, taking it apart, and then putting it back
together like a kid playing with a Legos set. The other musicians respond
with their own improvisations that seem to speak like a highly intelligent,
beautifully articulated conversation.
Sure its a bar, but class is in session as Issac Shearn, a drummer
and senior music major, scribbles notes. He is reviewing the performance
for his music theory course. He listens critically to the session and
focuses primarily on Harveys drumming. Though he admires the technical
virtuosity, Shearn feels theres no subtlety in Harveys stick
work. A discussion of his observation will be the focus of his report.
The music building is hopping again tonight with the jazz ensembles
second practice of the week and two small combos, both overseen by Julien,
at work. One of those combos is developing a cover of Bette Midlers
Twisted. Their work on the number is a bit scattered because
of the possibility of a gig, a March of Dimes Benefit at the Radisson
Hotel. Drummer Rachel Bischoff is continually interrupted by her cell
phone, which she hasnt turned off in anticipation of a call confirming
Everyone is excited, on edge, and unable to focus clearly on the music.
The conversation sidetracks to the question of whether they have enough
material prepared for a real gig. Julien offers several suggestions for
songs, including The Girl from Ipanema, All of Me,
and Night and Day. Then she tries to redirect their energy
back to the rehearsal. But Bischoffs cell rings. With everyone watching,
she answers, speaks briefly, and punches a fist in the air to confirm
the good news. The room erupts into nervous chatter.
Eventually, the combo settles down and performs a heartfelt rendition
of They Cant Take That Away From Me. At the end of the
song, singer Annakalmia Traver says, This is exactly how it should
go. It is unclear whether she means the song or the triumph of landing
Upstairs in the ballroom, the Latin Jazz Combo gathers for its rehearsal.
Garudas Tom Cleary, who leads the combo, has his teaching hat on
tonight. He opens the practice by telling the students, This piece
is a lot like rap. All rappers have a song about how good they are. Almost
every salsa band has one, too, and its usually named after themselves.
In this song, bands will have their signature soneos, a repeated
refrain between which soloists really let loose and show the audience
what a great band they are.
Tonight they are working on a song called Maria Cervantes
by Noco Morales. As they play through the piece, it is clear that the
band members are hesitant. Cleary tries to encourage them to play louder
and with more confidence. He tells them, Everybody appreciates a
The evening ends with Cleary praising the combo and offering a little
insight into Latin music. Everything in swing is reversing other
kinds of music. Rather than accenting the 1 and 3 beats, you should be
accenting the upbeat 2 and 4. This is what puts the Latin swing in it.
The students listen closely. Tonights practice builds on experience
many of them gained last year traveling to Cuba to study Latin jazz at
the source or performing at the Flynn Theatre with Paquito DRivera,
one of Cubas greatest sax players.
Writing, arranging, listening, critiquing, practicing, performing
immersion is what it is about. To deeply study any kind of music is to
get the sound running through you. And as Tom Cleary ends his lesson and
the Latin Jazz Combo heads out into the night, it seems they walk with
a distinct accent on their second steps.
Laban Carrick Hill is the author of Harlem
A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance,
to be released by Little, Brown in January 2004