Barbary Coast to recognize seniors

by Margarette Nelson | 5/7/14 1:52pm


As the opening notes of Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra’s “Moten Swing” sounded on Thursday evening last week, conductor Don Glasgo was at ease. Only a close observer could notice the slight motions of his wrist keeping tempo — a contrast to the stereotypical conductor armed with a baton, elaborately motioning through the rhythms. Through the opening passage, guitarist Zack Cutler ’14 anchored the chord progression with a walking bass line provided by Andrew Shea ’17. Floating on top, pianist Becky Zegans offered variation. Suddenly, there was a blitz of brass which stopped as quickly as it started.

The Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble was rehearsing in preparation for its 35th annual “Senior Feature” concert on May 10 in Spaulding Auditorium. This year’s concert will feature seniors Cutler, Alex Lessard ’14 and Ryan McWilliams ’14 as well as Hanover High School senior Zegans.

Seniors have the privilege of selecting the song they will be featured in, Glasgo said.

Lessard will be featured on flugelhorn for Cootie Williams and Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” while “Angel Eyes,” composed by Earl Brent and Matt Dennis, will showcase Zegans, who will both play piano and sing. Cutler and McWilliams elected to perform original compositions.

Cutler’s “Get Out” has a rock flavor, Glasgo said, reminiscent of works by John Mayer.

“Being able to play guitar and sing for the Barbary Coast is going to be very exciting,” Cutler said. Although Cutler is a member of the Dodecaphonics and lead singer of campus band Toast, he has yet to sing in a Hopkins Center ensemble.

As a composer, Cutler gave freedom to individual artists. The parts of the rhythm section — bass, guitar, drums and piano — are not written, but instead will “work out on their own” from his direction in rehearsals, he said.

Inspired by the New Orleans brass band tradition, McWilliams composed “Senior Sprung,” for which he will perform sousaphone.

Glasgo described the piece as “get up and dance kind of music.”

“The best part about this kind of music is that is it’s malleable,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams said that he plans to continue working on his piece after Saturday’s performance and hopes that in the future all parts will be played from memory.

“Reading off stands kills the vibe of the music,” McWilliams said.

Jazz is known for improvisation and individual expression. Lessard said the ensemble’s rehearsals reflect the genre’s “laid-back, fun atmosphere.”

Back at rehearsal, musicians laughed and joked between runs. Minor errors were met with a bit of self-deprecating but good-natured humor, and Glasgo ran the session with a casual air.

“Be more relaxed,” Glasgo said, offering advice to one of the musicians about his part on “Moten Swing.” “The groove was good. Just try to feel more.”

When the music resumed — this time at a section with a greater brass presence — the individuals within the saxophone section had precisely coordinated their dynamics. As the trumpets from the back led the crescendo, drummer Moises Silva ’16 underpinned the growing volume expanding throughout Hartman Rehearsal Room with his own fills.

“Moten Swing” is just one of the concert’s swing tunes. While typically the guest artist’s repertoire dictates the ensemble’s concert program, the spring concert is traditionally reserved for graduating students. Due to this year’s relatively small group of seniors, Glasgo seized the opportunity to center the remaining program on swing, he said.

When selecting the program for this show, Glasgo said he sought to stay true to the original arrangements.

“I want to be as authentic as I can when doing more historical material,” he said.

Although the ensemble is not playing Moten’s original 1932 arrangement of “Moten Swing,” the group will play the widely-recognized arrangement by Ernie Wilkins.

While this particular concert is without a guest artist, the seniors unanimously cited the residency program as one of the most valuable aspects of performing with the Barbary Coast.

“It’s been really cool getting to play with people who are so talented,” Zegans said. “It pushes you to try harder.”

Lessard said he connected with a past guest artist in Shanghai, where he said he plans to move after graduation and hopes to join a jazz community.

While graduation will pose new musical opportunities for each senior, the “Senior Feature” concert will celebrate the progress that each musician has already made.

Ellen Daily ’14, who has attended several Barbary Coast shows in the past, said she enjoys the atmosphere the ensemble creates at performances and looks forward to “seeing how their musicianship has grown over the last four years.”