Barbary Coast appoints Taylor Ho Bynum as new director

by Elise Higgins | 7/13/17 11:25pm


by Kelly Jensen and Kelly Jensen / The Dartmouth

After 40 years of leadership, Donald Glasgo announced his retirement as director of the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble this spring. Musician, improviser and educator Taylor Ho Bynum will replace Glasgo this upcoming school year.

Bynum said he originally found the opening on an academic job listing site. In addition to the administrative process, Bynum had to audition with the students of the Barbary Coast.

Charles Johnson ’19, a member of the ensemble, said that all of the director candidates did a mock rehearsal with the ensemble. It can be difficult to understand how applicants who seem suitable on paper feel in real life, and the rehearsal helped with finding the best fit.

“It was nice to have a little bit of influence over what the end result would be,” Johnson said.

As he was applying for the position, Bynam said he discovered that Mary Lou Aleskie, whom he had known previously from an arts festival in New Haven, had just become the director of the Hopkins Center.

“I had no influence and complete joy over the selection, and I’m just thrilled that he’s here,” Aleskie said.

Bynum has an extensive and varied musical background. He has occupied various roles as a musician, including artist in residency programs and festivals. However, this will be his first real chance to be part of a long term community.

“There’s something really magical that can happen with a long, engaged relationship,” Bynum said. “I’m excited to try to develop something like that here.”

Bynum said that he is impressed with the tradition of the Barbary Coast and wishes to continue many of them, such as exposing students to a variety of styles by bringing up guest artists every term.

“[Glasgo] always put in an exceptional amount of effort to get really amazing guest artists who we could play with and learn a lot from,” Johnson said.

Bynum said he did not know much about Dartmouth’s music program before applying to be the director of the Barbary Coast, but that he was pleased to learn more about its rich history. The program has previously hosted many incredible guest artists, such as famous American jazz trumpeters Don Cherry and Lester Bowie.

“I’m excited to try to have the Barbary Coast be more than just a big band [and] really be kind of a focal point or umbrella for a whole bunch of activity around creating music and improvisation on campus,” Bynum said.

“We’re bringing up artists to perform for students in a more intimate setting and really trying to connect the students here with the real vibrant activity going on in improvised music right now,” he added.

In addition to continuing traditions and bringing artists to campus, Bynum said that others at the Hopkins Center have encouraged him to introduce his own style of music as a way of introducing himself to students.

Johnson said that many students are curious about the new direction of the ensemble because Bynum’s style is more avant-garde. He added that while some students are hesitant about this new style, many are eager to learn more about it.

Bynum said that one of the things he likes most about the Barbary Coast is the group’s sense of community, adding that many students stay in the group for all four years of their time at the College.

“I definitely don’t want to sink that ship in any way,” he said. “I want to keep [the community] going but also find ways [to] have deeper engagements and collaborations, with improvisations and creative music practice.”

He added that he hopes that the history and legacy of the ensemble will continue to encourage new students to join.

“I’m brand new so I’m awash in ideas and perhaps the reality will set in when I figure out what I actually have to do,” Bynum said.

In addition to regular auditions, Bynum said that he plans to have the current members of the Barbary Coast play individually for him so he can get to know them on a one-on-one basis, and learn about their interests. By getting to know the members of the ensemble, Bynum said he hopes to continue to foster the sense of community. Bynum has been looking through the generous selection of scores that Dartmouth has to offer and trying to put together a musical program. He is also eager to incorporate student input.

“I think that everybody is very excited for the upcoming season and to see how the Coast goes and where he takes it,” Johnson said.