Never before had I considered the mandolin or banjo to have a place in the jazz world. And I certainly did not expect to experience a solo of either of these instruments in any context outside of a renaissance festival or a square dance competition, respectively.
Boy, was I wrong.
The performance was split into three sets, each a different student group exploring a wildly different facet of the music genre.
The first erred on the side of folk, incorporating a sound more twangy than I’d have expected from jazz musicians. But the smoothness of the violin’s bow sliding across the strings and the low voice of the cello lurking under the melody rounded out the tunes they played, making the sound much more complex and multi-dimensional. And, I must stress, Noah Fishman on mandolin and Matt Davis on banjo went hard.
The next group played in the classic big-band style of jazz, bursting into the music the second they began with grand flourishes of slurred crescendos and bright moments of staccatoed frenzy. It was hard seeing the relatedness of the first and second groups, even though they were a part of the same genre, and shared a few of the same instruments. But rather than this near-dichotomy being a distraction, it worked as a testament to jazz’s dynamicity. It was disappointing to me, as a piano player, that the pianist Kaysen Chown was barely audible amidst the brash bass tones, as the higher pitch and lightness of the instrument would have complimented the music greatly.
The last group to play featured a jazz of the sultry kind; the high call of the saxophones (Peter Goggin on alto and William Wood on tenor) was almost erotic. The songs were rambling and suave, able to warm the mind and body simultaneously. I could find myself in some underground jazz club, surrounded by the coolest cats around, dressed in all black, perhaps sporting a beret.
When I walked out of the auditorium, I still felt warm, even despite the biting wind of the mid-November night. Maybe it was the well-heated building, but more likely it was an effect of the music. I strode back to my dorm with a strange new confidence derived from the sheer sophistication of the evening. This lasted nearly the whole walk home, ending abruptly as I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk (a testament to the exclusiveness of the genre, maybe; one can fall out of its favor with a single uncool move).
All in all, a good night, thanks to this group of talented SMTD students!