Barbary Coast prepares for spring concert, director Glasgo’s last

by Madeline Killen | 5/12/17 12:00am

For the past 40 years, Don Glasgo and Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble have been practically synonymous. Glasgo has been the director of Barbary Coast since the mid-1970s; prior to his directorship, Barbary Coast was a small, student-run jazz ensemble. This Saturday’s concert, though, marks the end of an era, as it will be Glasgo’s final concert with the ensemble. In honor of Glasgo’s impending retirement, the second half of tomorrow night’s show will feature Barbary Coast alumni, including some ’78s and ’79s from Glasgo’s first years with the ensemble, sharing the stage with its current members.

“I’m sort of [taking things] one thing a time, so I’ll probably start thinking about my feelings Saturday night,” Glasgo said. “We have 15 hours of rehearsal to get through before then.”

Even if Glasgo is not yet reflecting on the end of his run with the ensemble, some of its current members certainly are.

“[Glasgo] is such a character,” said trombone player and manager of the ensemble Barrett Clark ’17. “He’s so happy to be alive. He does a great job of building relationships with all of his students — he spends time chatting with us, getting to know us.”

Glasgo said that the most rewarding part of his run as director has been building these relationships with students; he approximates that he has directed 329 jazz ensemble members.

“I think the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is just seeing students change over four years from when they enter as first-years to when they graduate,” he said. “It’s a pretty interesting and remarkable period. I also feel very lucky that I can see those students every term that they’re on campus … as opposed to professors, who only see them for one term.”

The ’17s, of course, are celebrating their final concerts with the jazz ensemble as well. They are also the final class to experience all four years under Glasgo’s directorship. Emmanuel Hui ’17, who plays violin in the ensemble, said that Glasgo’s influence has been invaluable to his Dartmouth jazz career.

“I play violin for the Coast, and that’s weird because nobody really knows how to fit a violin in jazz,” Hui said. “Now, it’s to a point where [Glasgo] would write a part for me deliberately so I can play with the group. He really wants me to stick with the group, and that’s something I really appreciate about [Glasgo] — that he takes the time and effort to put me in, to think about this one violin part.”

The spring concert is always the jazz ensemble’s “Senior Feature” concert, in which each senior in the group gets to select one piece of any genre for the Barbary Coast to perform. Hui’s selection is one of his own compositions, entitled “Sleepless at Narita,” which he began writing during a layover at the Narita, Japan airport. Hui explained that the piece is meant to represent that travel experience, with portions of the piece intended to mimic a plane’s takeoff and landing and influences from music he listened to in-flight and overheard in the airport.

After graduation, Hui will be working with Moogene, a biotech company that he began with several professors, but he already has plans lined up to continue pursuing music — he will be featured in the soundtrack of the upcoming third season of the Netflix original “Narcos.”

Clark, a biology and music double major, was involved with jazz in high school and came to Dartmouth knowing that he wanted to continue his jazz career. Barbary Coast is the extracurricular that takes up most of his time, he said, but he is also a member of the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble.

“[The jazz ensemble is] definitely a creative outlet,” Clark said. “I couldn’t live without a jazz environment. It’s incredibly liberating.”

Although Clark will be working with a trading firm in Washington, D.C. next year, he hopes to find jazz groups to play with.

“When I came to Dartmouth, I had such a passion for jazz that I had to continue,” Clark said. “Leaving, that passion has only grown.”

John Martin ’17, a trumpet player who joined the ensemble his freshman spring, chose the LCD Soundsystem song “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” for his senior feature selection.

“I saw this video a few years ago where someone had mashed up that song with a Miles Davis improvisation, and I was like ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool,’” Martin said. “So I’m playing a combo arrangement of that song that’s kind of inspired by that video.”

Martin credits Glasgo and the jazz ensemble with increasing his interest in and passion for jazz since joining the ensemble.

“I think [Glasgo] really embodies the philosophy of jazz in a lot of ways,” he said. “So, for me, it’s not as much about how he runs rehearsals or the songs he picks, but just his willingness to roll with stuff. He really brings to the table the sense that there’s no one right way to play jazz or one right kind of jazz, and I think that’s such a good mindset to have as a performer and a director.”

Although seniors won’t get the chance to play under the directorship of Glasgo’s successor, they have been involved in the selection process. Clark explained that the ensemble played with each of the five potential candidates, and ensemble members then offered feedback to the Hopkins Center for the Arts regarding each candidate. Although the Hop makes the final decision, ensemble members’ opinions are considered. Glasgo is removed from the search process and did not sit in on any of the rehearsals with potential new directors.

“I’m not involved in that process at all, which I think is a good thing,” Glasgo said.

After his retirement, Glasgo hopes to focus more time on writing his own music, on traveling and on spending time with his adult children.

“I like to call it rewiring instead of retiring,” he said.

Barbary Coast members are optimistic about the search process and the ensemble’s future.

“The future of jazz at Dartmouth looks bright,” Clark said.

The senior feature concert will be Saturday, May 13 at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium. Tickets are $5 for students.