Chicken Bacon Ranch and All That Jazz
By Anna Scheidt '12, Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 2 will mark the debut of this semester’s month-long Jazz@Schwemms Performance Series, which will run on consecutive Tuesdays during March. Held in the backroom of Keefe, each concert features a performance by both a professional group and a College student combo group. The purpose and significance of this series of concerts extends far beyond the superficial (though not inconsequential) effect it might have in reviving and heartening those students who, by 9 p.m., are already stumbling into Keefe in search of a moment of respite from their busy lives.

Established nearly four years ago by a collaborative initiative between two Amherst professors and a student of the Class of ’07, the program series aspires to increase the presence of jazz on campus and to give students the chance to interact with performers as a backdrop to their other normal daily activities. Professor Bruce Diehl, currently Director of Jazz performance and one of the two professors instrumental in the success of the series, identifies their initiative as grounded in “the desire to bring jazz into a more ‘personal space’ for our students … give our school community a chance to interact with improvised music in a different space.” This objective is directed both towards all those unfamiliar with jazz, as well as to those jazz students seeking to experiment with performance — in consideration of a performance-based career, in application of those theories learned in the classroom or in anticipation of customary end-of-semester combo and ensemble performances.

Two aspects of the series which contribute greatly to its success are the performance of professional groups hailing from outside of Amherst and the performance of Amherst professors from a variety of academic departments. Past local groups have included the EJQ (Eclectic Jazz quartet), FlavaEvolution, Freddie Bryant ’87 and the Open Sky Trio. Alison Rogers ’12 writes that for student performers, “it is a chance for student groups to play in the same venue as well known and talented professional musicians.” It is an opportunity, too, for students to interact with professors in a different environment and establish shared interests and relationships outside of the classroom. Biology professor Dominic Poccia, political science professor Ronald Tiersky and Visiting Professor of Music Jason Robinson are past performers, just to name a few.

The success of the Jazz@Schwemm’s series is indicative of what Taylor Haney ’12 calls a vibrant “small but dedicated jazz community” at the College. While this may facilitate a student’s introduction to (and subsequent captivation by) jazz at Amherst in general, it is a program and resource which can only benefit from a raised awareness within the student body. This spring promises to be an especially active semester, with Amherst hosting the Five College Jazz Festival on March 26-27 and a performance by the world-renowned Dave Holland Quintet on April 18 as part of the new concert series “Parallels.” On May 3, the McBride Jazz Commission Series (named after alumnus Robin McBride ’59) will feature the performance of a piece commissioned especially for the jazz ensemble, with Director of Jazz Studies at UConn Earl MacDonald as this year’s composer. Other notable events include “Faultlines,” the series of performances and lectures organized by Robinson and the performance of Sam Friend ’10’s thesis on Feb. 28, which will feature many Amherst jazz musicians, jazz ensemble and two a cappella groups.

Haney, drummer in the AC Jazz Ensemble as well as the Jazz Combo Two Left Beat (to perform at Schwemm’s March 30), observed, “The Jazz@Schwemm’s series allows members of the Amherst jazz community, as well as Amherst students, to come in contact not only with cutting-edge, professional caliber jazz from local acts, but also with the stylings of our own jazz combos. The fact that any student can walk out of her front door and wander down to Schwemm’s — to be that close to such great music — is a unique opportunity that only a college atmosphere and Jazz@Schwemm’s can foster. On top of that, we have fun, so it’s good for everyone.” If nothing else, the Jazz@Schwemm’s series is a chance for a moment of escape from the stress and strain of the quotidian, a haven of soft metropolitan sophistication. Find asylum in those dim lights and rejuvenation in the smooth music (and yes, that super-sized Rockstar, if you must).

Issue 16, Submitted 2010-02-24 00:24:17