A seminal year in the history of jazz, 1959 proved an intriguing concept for last Thursday’s Williams Jazz Faculty Concert, called 59+58. As Professor of Music Kris Allen, director of the Jazz Ensemble, put it at the beginning of the show, “ask just about any jazz fan for their top ten albums, and four or five usually come from 1959.”
The show opened with an original arrangement of Miles Davis’s “All Blues” by saxophonist Mike Kolodny, who was actually the musician to suggest the theme. The rendition of the tune was anything but a rehashing of a song transfixed in the lexicon of most players. Featuring odd time signatures and improvised solos by all the band members, the piece set the tone for the rest of the evening: The show would be a bombastic, in-your-face, tour de force of jazz that surged with the influences of multiple generations. Conor Meehan, artist associate in jazz drums, explained that he “could not help but approach this music with the adventurous spirit with which it was made,” a sentiment clearly held across the entire band. Avery Sharpe, artist associate in jazz bass and director of small jazz ensembles, who toured with jazz legend McCoy Tyner, elaborated on the character of era: “A lot was happening musically, historically, racially.” Indeed, the spirit of 1959 was palpable throughout the room, especially during the show’s intense two-song peak. Allen’s bass and sax duo arrangement of the song “Peace” by Ornette Coleman pierced through the room as the two on stage improvised around each other. The politically salient “Fables of Faubus” by Charles Mingus, arranged by Avery Sharpe, was perhaps the highest point of the night. Sharpe explained it was written as a protest in reaction to Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’s use of the National Guard to prevent school integration.
Before starting the piece, Sharpe stated, “It is hard to not get political now, in today’s climate at least.” He later added that he wanted the song to be a “wake-up call” about the current state of race relations in America. Soon after, two students, Gabe Morosky ’17 and Nathaniel Vilas ’17, on the drums and piano, respectively, joined the band, showcasing the immense jazz talent residing in the College’s music department. Before the final song of the night, Allen invited back on stage Andy Jaffe, the recently retired College jazz legend. The “Duke Ellington of Williams,” as Allen put it, Jaffe and the rest of the band once again soared in the finale. If this was Jaffe’s last faculty show, he certainly made his presence felt with his incredible solos and dexterous comping. Besides celebrating an incredibly important year in the jazz pantheon, the show served as an insight into the incredible music scene on campus. The department boasts two jazz ensembles and two jazz combos that perform shows at the end of each semester as well as during events both on and off campus. If that is not enough live music for you, every Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9 p.m., there is an open jam session at The Log.
Yet, for all the jazz talent on campus, student attendance varies greatly from show to show. Hopefully more students can take the time to see their peers and community members in these incredible performances. As Avery Sharpe put it, great live music “shouldn’t be taken for granted.”