By Sarah Hong ’21, Hop Arts Ambassador
The Barbary Coast is Dartmouth’s student jazz ensemble. They will be performing this Saturday, February 24, at 8 pm in Spaulding Auditorium. I recently talked with Connor Quigley, a ’21 who plays the tenor saxophone, about his experiences in the Barbary Coast.
Q: How did you get involved with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble?
A: When I was here visiting at Dimensions, I walked by the rehearsal room and saw a band playing there. I saw a poster on the wall that said Dexter Gordon plays with the Barbary Coast, and was, like, “My god, I have to play with the band that Dexter Gordon played with!” and so I started asking people I knew on campus over the summer about auditions, and auditioned when I got here in the fall.
Q: Were you involved in jazz band in high school? How was that experience different from being in the Barbary Coast?
A: In high school you meet daily, but here you meet twice a week for two hours, and so you know, to get as good on your music as you would be in high school, there’s a lot more practice outside you have to do. Also the music you play is different. Barbary Coast is known for being eclectic and playing a wide variety of music, while a high school jazz band usually sticks in the main jazz big band canon. So a lot of the stuff we are playing for the upcoming concert is very out-there. What we’re doing is more cutting-edge, where developments in the music are happening right now.
Q: Who composes the music that the Barbary Coast plays?
A: A lot of the musicians that the director, Taylor Ho Bynum, knows and has worked with wrote the music we are playing. For our concert Saturday, we are having eight musicians come up and work with us and perform some of their own music. We’ve had Bill Lowe, a trombonist, come and work with us on one of the songs he wrote. Sometimes you hear more contemporary music and it can sound a little like chaos or cacophony, like someone is throwing notes on a page and calling it music. But talking to a guy like Bill Lowe shows you that there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. The music is very contemplative. All the artists coming up, while they are great musicians, they are also great thinkers.
Q: Can you tell me more about the music the Barbary Coast is playing this Saturday?
A: Some of the music has its roots in jazz and blues, but a lot of it is experimental. It’s also very focused on improvisation. One of the pieces is called “Sleeping Giant,” with three different sets of improvisational music put together. As a band we don’t know how it’ll turn out because it really depends a large part on how Taylor wants it to turn out. He uses all these hand signals to tell us, “Here play trills, here play angular lines, here you move to this part of the music while you stay over here.” It’s interesting, because we’ll be finding out what it sounds like while everyone else is finding out what it sounds like. It’s different every time we play it.
Q: What’s it like rehearsing with Taylor Ho Bynum?
A: Taylor’s on the forefront, he’s innovative, but at the same time he has a very deep understanding of the history of jazz. So in a typical rehearsal with Taylor, you work on the music, but at the same time you learn about the music, where it came from, who are the artists who helped this artist get to where they are, what influences can you see in the music, and how do you respect the music. As a conductor, he’s very focused on improvisation, so we’ll be playing something and he might just point at you to improvise. He’s asking you to put your musical ideas out in the open, and asking you to be vulnerable. So he expects a level of vulnerability from his players that I haven’t seen in bands I’ve played in before.
Q: Why do you think people should come to Barbary Coast’s concert on Saturday?
A: You know, people have different ideas of what jazz is. To some, jazz is like Kenny G, smooth jazz. To others, jazz is this hard-to-listen-to contemporary stuff. What you would see if you came on Saturday is that jazz is much more versatile. You’d get a better understanding of what jazz is today. The music is really fun to listen to, and you’ll get to see what your classmates are doing.