As delicate piano music floated through Rosse Hall this past Saturday evening, the audience was silent. Six other instruments gradually joined in, playing the soulful tunes of jazz musician Miles Davis’s best-known album, Kind of Blue. This performance marked the debut of the Kenyon Faculty Jazz Combo, a group of seven music instructors and professors, including Assistant Professor of Music Ross Feller on alto saxophone.
The musicians, who all specialize in jazz music, launched the Combo after a casual conversation between two of its members about the way in which new music streaming technology has caused people to shift away from listening to albums all the way through. The group formed with the mission of playing an entire album without interruption for their debut performance. Kind of Blue seemed like the perfect choice, not only because it is the best-selling jazz album of all time, but also because it includes all of the instruments played by Kenyon’s music faculty members who specialize in jazz.
“We wanted to involve everyone who wanted to play, even if that didn’t exactly duplicate the album’s personnel and instrumentation,” Professor of Music Ted Buehrer, who played trumpet, said.
Adjunct Instructor of bass and guitar Matt Paetsch’s expressive handle on the upright bass and Adjunct Instructor of music Tom Davis’s bold energy on the guitar added a constant air of excitement to the relaxed tone of the performance.
Sarah Griswold ’20, who attended the performance, said Adjunct Professor of Percussion Cary Dachtyl “had a very soft touch when he was playing” the drums, even during intermittent, explosive solos throughout “Freddie Freeloader,” a fast-paced song.
Rosse was the only adequate venue to house the high volume of students, faculty and community members that filled the audience. Unfortunately, that meant presenting an informal style of music in a distinctly formal setting. But the Jazz Combo’s expert playing and evident passion for the music — which they also performed at Dick’s Den, a bluegrass and jazz bar in Columbus, earlier this month — overcame the stifling nature of a venue lacking in intimacy.
“Blue in Green,” the third track on the album, stood out as an excellent example of the combo’s skillful handle on Davis’s high-energy but loose musical style. The piece began with only trumpet and drums, and then built to include the other instruments. Buehrer’s easy use of a Harmon mute, a device which alter’s a brass instrument’s tone, combined with cool, meandering trombone and piano solos from Adjunct Instructors of Music Ryan Hamilton and Caleb Hutslar captured the song’s meditative, rainy-day feeling.
“As the trumpet player, I had some concerns about living up to the high bar Miles sets, because his tone, color, inflection, and time are so unique — he’s Miles!” Buehrer said of his pre-performance jitters. “I tried to worry less about sounding like Miles and tried to express my own voice — influenced by Miles but also by others — through my playing.”
The program closed with “On Green Dolphin Street,” a tune that Davis recorded nine months before Kind of Blue was originally released, but which was included on the 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition of the album in 2009. Buehrer said the group wanted to conclude with a more upbeat song than “Flamenco Sketches,” the last number on the original album.
Before the group played their final song, Buehrer noted that the Jazz Combo plans on performing again at some point in the future. But Buehrer clarified that such a project was not likely to take place before next year, stating, “We’ve talked about a few ideas but nothing is concrete yet.” Jazz lovers will have to stay tuned.