Stubblefield works Coast hard

by Kate Carolan | 11/7/03 6:00am

Wednesday night, Hartman Recital Hall was not only a room full of 20-some instrumentalists, but also a room full of intensity, creativity and energy. Excitement and concentration blanketed the recital hall as the Barbary Coast practiced for their big show this Saturday with renowned tenor saxophonist and guest director for the week, John Stubblefield.

Nearing the halfway mark of the band's "three hour" practice, Stubblefield said to the band, "I get carried away. I forget you guys are important people and have better things to do than sit with a wild guy from New York." He then promised to be done with practice by 11 p.m.

With that, it was back to the music stands for another hour a half, which, of course, was not an hour and a half, but more like two a half.

A layperson would have gotten lost in the sea of technical music jargon.

"E is the bridge coming out of L."

"No, L is 16 bars. I is the last 8 of whoever's solo that is." "2nd chorusmore bridge at Esaxes at K."

Piece by piece, Dizzy Gillespie's "Bee Bop" was coming together. Stubblefield reminded the band that it's necessary to practice slow in order to play fast. This seemed analogous to slowly ripping off a Band-Aid, judging from the looks of grief on band members' faces. "It's so much easier to play fast!" said trumpet player Philip Taber '04,"It will be two or three times this speed at normal play -- it sounds a lot better."

Although the band has many hours of rehearsal with the famous tenor saxophonist, the Coast has only four days to bring these songs to a level of perfection, as Stubblefield would not accept anything less.

Indeed, though Stubblefield was quick to compliment the band when something was done well, he also meant business. One member found out the hard way when Stubblefield decided he had had enough of the chitchat in the back of the room.

He stopped the band in the middle of pieces on multiple occasions for even the slightest imperfections saying, "I'm not going to accept anything but the best and the right thing." He wouldn't settle for mediocrity, as the band discovered when they spent ten minutes trying to locate a missing concert G flat.

"This is working on my spinal cord! It's not right!" Stubblefield exclaimed after about the fifth attempt to locate the note.

Eventually concert G flat was found and the playing resumed. Suddenly the sterility of Hartman Recital Hall's bare whitish walls was gone and the "warm and spacey chords" filled the room. Stubblefield and the band members continued to experiment with different effects, creating wah-wahs and distortions with mutes, plungers, and hats. Eventually Stubblefield found the "colors" he was looking for by using music stands.

"Play an inch away from your stands like you usually do," he sardonically told the trumpet section. The trumpet section laughed and obliged. When Stubblefied heard the sound it made he exclaimed "I like that!"

Stubblefield conveyed the point that jazz is not only the improvisation of music, but also the improvisation of props.

"I'm trying to recapture things that went on 30 years ago. I want for us to recapture the colors from when I played this stuff with Miles Davis," said Stubblefield about his current collaboration with the Barbary Coast.

Glasgo, whom Stubblefield greatly respects, acted as the mediator between the students and Stubblefield at times throughout the night when the frustration was building and Stubblefield considered throwing out the trouble-causing songs.

Many of the professional musicians come in and have huge expectations for the band, which ultimately the band fulfills, but sometimes not right off the bat.

Trumpet player David Eckels '04 mentioned, "Of the 20 instrumentalists, there is only one music major, but that is something that makes the band special. People play because they want to play." Considering the lack of intensive music study, what the band does is nothing short of amazing.

Stubblefield praised the music department especially and said that Dartmouth is a great institution for learning. "These people aren't majors, they're just great musicians with great training. They are serious about the music and have a very high level of musicality."

He was honored to be working with such talented people and acknowledged that they would be moving forward to become the great surgeons, financiers, and leaders of the world, he said.

"They'll always know about music and the love and the dedication it takes to play, and they'll spread that."

Likewise Glasgo has nothing but praise for Stubblefield said, "Mr. Stubblefield is a treasure. His big band writing is inspired, his playing is dynamic and soulful, and he's wonderful to work with. His passion for the music and his heartfelt respect and appreciation for the dedication and ability of the multi-talented students in the Barbary Coast is exceptional."

The Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble performs tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.