Barbary Coast to perform Saturday

by Haley Gordon | 2/4/15 6:10pm

Big band music and swing dancing will take center stage on Saturday night as the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble headlines the 39th annual Winter Carnival Concert in Spaulding Auditorium.

The concert’s theme is big band music, and the ensemble will perform big band staples with the help of guest artists trombone player Ryan Keberle and trumpet player Michael Rodriguez, as well as five couples from the Dartmouth swing dance club.

Barbary Coast director Don Glasgo said he got the idea for the concert when he heard about Keberle’s Big Band Living Legacy Project. Keberle began the project after he realized that musicians were not taking advantage of the expertise and knowledge of the remaining living legends of jazz. His project is an effort to showcase the remaining jazz legends from famous orchestras and revitalize big band-style music for a new audience.

Glasgo said he looked at the music played in Keberle’s concerts and knew that it would be perfect for the Barbary Coast winter concert due to its unique range.

“Usually big bands play their own material,” Glasgo said. “What [Keberle] was doing that was really interesting to me was that he was drawing from all these classic big bands of the 20th century. The music we’re playing on Saturday is actually from six decades of the 20th century, a much broader span than you’d usually have in any one big band’s repertoire.”

Most of the music that Keberle works with had never been formally recorded and existed only in handwritten notes. Keberle sent Glasgo the music, and the students began practicing it at the beginning of winter term.

Glasgo invited Keberle and Rodriguez to perform guest solos with Barbary Coast because of their professional success and familiarity with the genre.

“They’re both rising stars on the New York music scene,” Glasgo said. “They also play together in a small group called Catharsis, so they know each other, and they play together really well.”

Glasgo said that the most challenging aspect of big band music for students to master is the swing rhythm, which is featured in most of the concert’s pieces and is fairly uncommon in modern music.

“Students haven’t grown up hearing swing rhythms and playing swing rhythms,” he said. “Playing with a natural feel is the biggest challenge.”

Mali-Agat Obomsawin ’18, upright bassist in Barbary Coast, said that the ensemble’s switch to playing big band music was an exciting move.

“Last concert was really crazy, sort of surreal jazz,” she said. “This is just straight swing, all really tangible, dance-able music, and I love that, so it’s been a blast to work on.”

The music’s “dance-able” quality inspired Glasgo to reach out to the Dartmouth swing dance club, using student connections between the two groups. The dancers, 10 in all, will be dancing onstage alongside the musicians in four of the evening’s numbers.

Obomsawin said she is excited to perform with the dancers, since it will create an authentic feel.

“Jazz was made for dancing in the first place, so it’s going to be amazing,” she said.

Keberle said that big bands that played popular jazz music were traditionally the training ground for musicians, and that much of his own musical education came from playing with big bands.

“The big band tradition is its own language — its own vernacular within the jazz tradition,” Keberle said. “Like all languages, you have to hear it, speak it and converse with others to become fluent.”

Keberle said that an unfortunate consequence of jazz fading from popular culture is the neglect of the tradition that accompanies it. The role of the few musicians who continue to practice the “language” becomes more and more important as legendary jazz artists begin to pass away, he said.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to carry on this language, since I do speak it fluently and I learned from the masters,” he said. “I want to carry that tradition on to the next generation.”

Obomsawin said that she thinks it’s important that groups continue to play big band-style music because it is a relatable and interesting form of jazz.

The adherence to the traditional style does not mean that the concert will just be recreations of old big band numbers. Rather, Keberle said the he wants to translate the music in the stories and feelings of the musicians, allowing for original improvisation in solos.

“I’ll encourage the Barbary Coast students to be different than anything that has been played before and encourage the tradition of personalization and telling your own story through the music,” he said.

He said that despite its perception of being out-of-date and irrelevant, jazz remains powerful.

“Whether you’re a jazz musician or a jazz fan or a total novice listener, all you have to do is sit in a room with a big band playing this music and you’ll realize just how powerful and how much fun and just how great it is,” Keberle said. “It’s infectious.”

Obomsawin said that she agrees that jazz music remains alive and vivid, due to its improvised nature.

Glasgo said that he believes that the concert will make its attendees feel happy.

“It’s great music,” he said. “I think people will really get into the spirit of the music — it’s music that just makes you feel good.”

The concert will take place at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium. Tickets are five dollars for students and $10 for regular admission.