“They used to kick people out of practice rooms for doing what you’re getting a degree for,” Associate Professor of Jazz Guitar Bobby Ferrazza quipped to an audience full of jazz students on Tuesday night. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Students now have the opportunity to learn jazz from professors who are professional musicians, nine of whom performed together on Tuesday in Finney Chapel.
Since all of the jazz faculty are active musicians, it is unusual that they are all in Oberlin at the same time, and even more uncommon that they perform together. As such, Tuesday was an exceptional night, and not just because of the rarity of the occasion. These are intelligent players who are at the top of their musical game and clearly delight in bringing their distinctive personalities together to jam.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Jazz Trumpet Sean Jones was a lit powder keg, beginning his solos in a relaxed style but always leading the band to an energized explosion. In “Uncle Bubba,” written by Professor of Jazz Saxophone Gary Bartz, Jones imitated the swinging rhythm of the melody, punctuating his two-note slurs with sharp hits. Those hits eventually overcame the easy sway of the beginning, erupting into quicksilver runs and impossibly high notes. Billy Hart, professor of Jazz percussion, goaded Jones on with pounding drum fills borrowed from rock. Hart acted as the genial uncle of the group, enjoying himself immensely as he mischievously shifted grooves with Professor of Jazz Studies and Double Bass Peter Dominguez cheerfully in tow. Dominguez himself shone later in the tune, bowing his bass to lend his solo an almost bluegrass vibe.
In his own song “Back in the Day,” Associate Professor of Jazz Trombone and Jazz Composition Robin Eubanks played the swaggering firebrand, unleashing a flurry of notes in crashing waves of sound. The song ended with the horns attempting to continue the melody over a furious barrage from Hart as he took a solo that fragmented the helpless horn lines.
“Remembrances” by Wendell Logan, the originator of the Jazz Studies program at Oberlin, began with a melancholy intro from Associate Professor of Jazz Piano Dan Wall. Chromatic lines swirled around rich chords in intricate contrapuntal interaction, while notes were dissonantly suspended against each other, sometimes resolving and sometimes augmenting the harmony. Wall’s own song, “Carol’s Carol,” featured an introspective dialogue between piano and bass over an incessant tapping from the drums. It also showcased Wall’s impressive accompanying ability as he imitated licks from solos, unfurling them into the depths of the piano.
Ferrazza reflected on mellow chords in his “Beauty Surrounds Us,” while Visiting Teacher of Jazz Studies Paul Samuels created disquiet in the piece with his questioning drum splashes. Samuels also played on Jones’s “Liberty Avenue Stroll,” “Remembrances,” and another Wendell Logan tune, “Shoo Fly.” Clouds of flies appeared in cymbal crashes, piano swirls, and flutter-tongued trombone in the latter song, only to be swatted away by the syncopated melody and strong groove.
The set ended with “Deference to Diz,” by Associate Professor of Jazz Arranging Jay Ashby, who unleashed a melodic solo on trombone that danced to an inevitable and satisfying payoff.
Let this be a warning to anyone who ever dares to oust a musician from a practice room for playing jazz: You may be preventing nights of great fun like the one the Oberlin Faculty Jazz Septet contributed on Tuesday. There isn’t a better argument for jazz education.