Theis joins in Barbary Coast show

by Perri Haser | 10/28/13 7:00am

On Saturday evening in Spaulding Auditorium, the Barbary Coast Jazz ensemble performed a collection of pieces all written or arranged by guest artist, Adam Theis, the creator of the Jazz Mafia consortium and the winner of the 2008 William and Flora Hewlett emerging composers grant. The set included arrangements of Michael Jackson songs, “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and Theis’ original work.

Theis grew up in Sebastopol, Calif., and graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in jazz composition and performance. In 1998, he moved to San Francisco’s mission district, where he formed the Jazz Mafia, which now includes at least five distinct bands that play together. Throughout his career, Theis has been on tour with leading jazz artists including Carlos Santana, Bobby McFerrin and Booker T. Jones.

Theis plays trombone, bass, trumpet, tuba and keyboards, though during the show he focused only on the trombone and the tuba. Theis’ style, primarily influenced by jazz, also draws on hip-hop, classical, funk, gypsy and electronic.

Theis was brought in on the recommendation of a friend of the ensemble’s director, Don Glasgo.

Glasgo wanted to introduce people to Theis’ musical vision, which is distinct from typical East Coast jazz styles.

Theis’ wide-ranging and lively energy showed in the performance. “Chill,” composed by Theis, started with a beautiful keyboard introduction by Rebecca Zegans, a Hanover High School student, and featured solos by Brett Szalapski ’15 on the baritone saxophone and Kathryn Waychoff ’16 on lead trumpet.

Even during the ensemble’s rehearsal, the song “already sound[ed] the best it’s sounded in a big band,” Theis said.

The band performed a pleasantly soulful rendition of “Summertime,” with vocals from Tyne Freeman ’17 and Jeremy Whitaker ’15. The performance was astounding; long stretches of scatting demonstrated their mastery of their instruments and rhythm. The final piece was an arrangement of “Remember the Time,” originally by Bernard Belle, Michael Jackson and Teddy Reiley. This song was definitely the most funky and fun, and demonstrated the skill of vocalist Whitaker who took the lead.

Freeman, who performed for the first time with a large ensemble, and found it to be “really fun,” she said.

Theis said his favorite part of performing is connecting with student band members during rehearsals, which gave him a “deeper look” at the music.

There were only subtle differences between professional bands and the Barbary Coast, Theis said, citing the open-mindedness of the students. Even though the ensemble members were typically not music majors, the students were faster learners than the members of other college bands he has worked with.

Overall, the band’s performance was “pretty damn polished,” Theis said.

Glasgo said he hoped to teach the students in the band “how to improvise in life, in whatever their career might be” by frequently using improvised solos.

Simone Schmid ’17, who attended Saturday’s show, said that the performance exceeded her expectations.

“I was jamming in my seat the whole time,” she said.