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The Dartmouth
April 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Coast Jazz Orchestra’s final show of the term to feature Bill Lowe, ensemble

Lowe’s Signifyin’ Natives will perform alongside Dartmouth’s avant-garde student jazz group.

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The Coast Jazz Orchestra will hold their third concert of the term today at 9 p.m. at Collis Common Ground. Jazz musician Bill Lowe and his ensemble, the Signifyin’ Natives, will join the student band. Lowe has played with avant-garde musicians such as Henry Threadgill and Muhal Richard Abrams, but has also collaborated with straight-ahead jazz musicians like Frank Foster and Thad Jones.

Jayanth Uppaluri ’24, a percussionist in the band, remarked that the return to normal has positively impacted the orchestra after an 18-month hiatus, reflecting the growth that occurred over the duration of the band’s separation.

“All of us who played during COVID have improved,” said Uppaluri.

Coast director Taylor Ho Bynum, who is also the composer of two songs on today’s setlist, echoed the sentiments on the dynamic this term.

“These days, I’m savoring every drop of performing with my students,” said Bynum. “[The pandemic] was a very powerful reminder of how necessary it is to make some sound and connect with each other in that beautiful, ephemeral place that we call music.”

The Coast finds itself at the avant-garde end of the genre. Inspired by revolutionary artists like Charles Mingus and Sun Ra, it will bring typically unheard sounds and unorthodox jazz instrumentations to the Collis Center, according to Bynum, which allows the orchestra to break the accepted conventions of jazz.

“We can bring influences from other genres, from other cultures, and allow us to show people that jazz can be more than what they’ve heard,” states Uppaluri.

Within Coast, the typical jazz orchestra instrumentation shakes up the traditional mix of saxophones, trombones, trumpets and rhythm, adding in more unexpected instruments such as mbria, bassoon and cello — as well as a six-person percussion section.

“Because of the six-person percussion section, we can end [one of the songs on the set list] in a traditional West African style, percussion solo section,” says Uppaluri. “It adds a whole new dimension to the song.”

Malik Terrab ’25, a fan of classic and cool jazz, plans to attend the concert for the Coast’s unorthodox style.

“I feel like I don’t know exactly what to expect, and that sort of excites me,” says Terrab. “Any avenue of art where it’s pretty free-form is really exciting because so many things could come of it; there’s just so many opportunities for things to happen.”

Bynum said the theme for the Coast this term centers on strengthening relationships between past and current orchestra members.

“So much of [these relationships were] ruptured,” said Bynum. “The passage of tradition, culture and vibe that happens naturally when you play in a band was changed completely.” 

For that reason, earlier this term Bynum invited alumni Noah Campbell ’21, a former saxophonist with the Coast, and Mali Obomsawin ’18, a former Coast bassist and professional musician, along with two colleagues to play with the Coast in a performance.

Bynum hopes to end the term collaborating with Lowe, who he said was his first mentor in high school.

“We’ve been friends and collaborators for over 30 years now; he’s a fixture of my musical life,” said Bynum. “Getting the chance to bring his ensemble up here the same term that I brought Mali’s ensemble up here means a lot to me.” 

Bynum said that Signifyin’ Natives consists of an intergenerational mix of musicians.

“Music goes across generations…the relationships don’t stop in the classroom,” said Bynum.

Though the audience will listen to music from the jazz tradition, Uppaluri and Bynum hope listeners leave with much more.

“There’s nothing like playing for a crowd,” said Uppaluri. “You’re sort of feeding off [the crowd’s] energy.”

This concert will be the third time the Coast performs this term, though pre-pandemic, the group would perform  one or two concerts per term, according to Bynum. A majority of musicians in the group haven’t played on a live stage with the Coast up until this term. 

“We have to make some of that connective tissue that has always been implicit, explicit,” Bynum said.