By Meghna Ray ’20
According to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, “Jazz is like a sandwich. The first chorus (head) is like the top piece of bread, the last chorus (head) is like the bottom piece of bread, but what goes in the middle is up for grabs and is the best, most important, and most fun part.” If jazz is like a sandwich, the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble performance on Saturday, October 15, was the most delicious sandwich ever made.
The Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble is Dartmouth’s student jazz ensemble consisting almost entirely of non-music majors and directed by Don Glasgo. The 2016/2017 season is Don Glasgo’s fortieth and final year as director of the Coast. The ensemble specializes in African American and Afro-Latin jazz traditions and has been proclaimed to be “the most eclectic college jazz ensemble in the country” by many distinguished guest artists. The Coast was joined Saturday night by creative flutist Nicole Mitchell, multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum and percussionist William Rodriguez, and featured vocalist Tyné Freeman ’17. Synthesizing various music styles and contemporary jazz idioms, both Mitchell’s and Peter’s music is “about” something and aims to create a new view of the world with better realities.
As soon as the ensemble members walked on stage, it became evident this was no regular jazz performance. Rhythmically stomping and clapping as all 24 members took their positions, the ensemble began redefining the expectations of music from the get-go, and the anticipation in the audience of Spaulding Auditorium was almost tangible. At one moment there was silence and the next the auditorium was filled with the deep sonorous sound of the bass, the gently reverberating singing of the vocalist, the unfaltering beat of the drum, the beauty of which words will never be able to convey.
To make up the middle of the sandwich, many of the ensemble members performed short solos. Free from traditional structural constraints of set chords, rhythms and tones, the artists expanded the horizons of music by fitting together sounds in unexpected combinations. Each soloist took to heart Mitchell’s words that “improvisation allows you not to be focused on the smallness of who you are and your reality, but to actually experience the greatness of possibility and surprise and spontaneity.” Listening to the seamless nature in which the students performed and watching the ease at which they played, it was hard to believe they were composing on the spot. The solos flowed like a conversation among the musicians with the effortlessness of water, and was neither methodical nor messy.
Among the pieces performed by the ensemble was a song called Harambe, which means working together, pulling together, helping each other, caring and sharing in Swahili. The musicians epitomized the qualities of harambe and through working together created a memorable night of music from the heart. From the standing ovation at the end of the concert, it became evident the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble’s performance is definitely a sandwich worth ordering again. The Coast will be performing February 10 for the 41st Annual Winter Carnival Concert with guest artists Joe Bowie and Steven Bernstein, so mark your calendars now!
Meghna (at left) is a ’20 at Dartmouth College from Andover, Massachusetts. She is a prospective biomedical engineering major. While you can often find her in the lab, she is just as passionate about the arts and is excited to explore all the Hop offers in the coming years.