ChamberWorks concert will be performed Sunday in Rollins Chapel

by Gray Christie | 4/21/17 12:00am

This Sunday, Fred Haas is bringing a brilliant sextet lineup and a deeply personal set of jazz arrangements to the ChamberWorks concert series entitled, “ChamberWorks: From the Heart.”

Haas is an acclaimed saxophonist and music professor at Dartmouth, where he teaches private lessons and courses in jazz history and improvisation. He prides himself on his philosophy of teaching which emphasizes the player’s personality in their interpretation and performance of music. In this Sunday’s performance, Haas will be playing saxophone and piano.

The lineup will also feature Jason Ennis on guitar. Ennis teaches guitar lessons at Dartmouth and plays professionally in the area. He and the other players in the ensemble have known each other for a while. Ennis met bass player Dave Clark in 1995 when they took a Middlebury College jazz improvisation class together, which was taught by Haas. Ennis later took Clark’s combo jazz class at the Vermont Jazz Center. Ennis and Clark also work at Haas’ annual Interplay Jazz & Arts summer camp every year along with the rest of the combo, which consists of George Voland on trombone, Tim Gilmore on drums and Dave Ellis on trumpet. Ennis’ upcoming musical plans include a performance with Dartmouth’s World Music Percussion Ensemble on May 24.

As for the set list, Haas likes not to decide what to play until the day of the show. Regarding the repertoire for the show, Ennis said, “The truth is, I actually don’t even know.”

There is no malicious intent behind the set list’s secrecy. Ennis does not want to confine himself to a predetermined set, instead preferring to play “whatever [he] feels like that day.”

However, Ennis did indicate what the audience can expect in general: a combination of newly arranged standards, music from Haas’ album “Telling Stories” and Brazilian influences.

Whatever music Haas decides to program will certainly reflect his distinctive approach to jazz music. Contrary to the emphasis on strict interpretation characterized by classical repertoire, Haas places value on “how well we interact as we jointly reinterpret the music written by the composer.” The music flows not from the composer or the paper on which it is printed; instead, it is a work of collaboration between the six musicians. Haas’ performances involve a highly personal approach to jazz. The end result will be a unified item composed of six individual personalities.

This is an approach that he has communicated well to the other performers. For the concert’s liner notes, Haas asked each of them to write about the definitive musical experiences of their lives.

Ennis chose to describe the formative experiences of his youth as a guitar player in the notes.

“One of the great live performance memories I have is of hearing a more regionally known blues player named Ronnie Earl,” Ennis wrote. “I remember just about having the wind knocked out of me by a slow blues he played at the Iron Horse Music Hall the day after Thanksgiving of 1994.”

Voland, on the other hand, related his philosophy of connecting to people through music, writing that he loves giving away “whatever musical gift [he has].”

Gilmore recalled the euphoria of being validated as a musician.

“July of 1970, I play my first professional gig and make $75, and I’m the richest man in town!” he wrote.

Clark wrote about the experience of being a member of a chorus with a program that “took the top of [his] head off.”

Together, these players promise emotionally touching, unique interpretation in a genre that emphasizes creative integrity over strict adherence to procedure.

Performances like this are essential to help build the cultural relevance of jazz music in the isolated Dartmouth community. Emma Howeiler ’18, who plays piano in the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble and performs gigs in town and around the Upper Valley, described Dartmouth jazz culture as a “vacuum on both sides.” She cites a lack of community interest in jazz accompanied by a lack of institutional resources to promote jazz learning and culture.

Howeiler and other members of the Barbary Coast are frequently frustrated with the student community’s lack of appreciation of a musical culture that, for them, is more than just a genre. They often find that jazz is trivialized and commercialized in films like “La La Land,” which distract from a practical understanding of the genre. For the student community outside the small web of players at the college, jazz is an occasional musical interest but ultimately an artifact of another age.

Enter Haas, whose teaching philosophy emphasizes the applicability of jazz to universal aspects of human life. He sees jazz as an essential part of the liberal arts and is quick to point out that “the skills [students] learn [in jazz] translate into being more coherent in other aspects of their life.”

For Haas, jazz is really about thinking on your feet and applying the knowledge you have to novel circumstances and constantly changing situations, skills that the liberal arts philosophy undoubtedly promotes.

Teaching the Dartmouth community to appreciate jazz as not a piece of history but an active method to understand the world is paramount to fostering jazz culture at the college and beyond. Jazz players understand this, and it is their job to communicate it to the outside world. Haas’ approach to jazz playing accomplishes this by emphasizing the importance of personal experience in performance and interpretation.

Concerts and events like this Sunday’s “ChamberWorks: From the Heart” are what keeps jazz alive at Dartmouth. Haas’ highly personalized approach to improvisation and the chemistry of six players who have known each other for decades should deliver a worthwhile performance.

“ChamberWorks: From the Heart” will be performed at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Rollins Chapel. Admission is free.