Columbia Jazz Ensemble
Such grooves are typical for the Columbia Jazz Ensemble, nine undergraduate and graduate students directed by Assistant Professor Chris Washburne 99GSAS, but tonight also promised something new. Billed as Jazz Meets Hip-Hop, the show included guest vocalist Akil Dasan 03CC, who delivered a jazz-inspired hip-hop message with his original composition You So Fly, and David Gudis 03CC, also a guest, who displayed his human beat-box virtuosity on another tune. Ensemble composers showcased new work as well. Bassist Paul Steinbeck, a second-year doctoral candidate in music theory and a Chicago native, offered his composition Wadada, honoring Wadada Leo Smith, an early member of Chicagos Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a school and workshop founded in 1965.
Washburne, a trombonist who has toured with Tito Puente 99HON, Eddie Palmieri, and Gloria Estefan, among others, is currently working to take the ensemble on tour in Europe. He talks to his students at length about what its like to perform here and abroad. The first thing I tell them each morning is how much money I made the night beforetheyre astounded by how little it is, he laughs.
The ensembles gig at Smoke was made possible through the efforts of Columbias Center for Jazz Studies. Founded by Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature Robert OMeally in 1999 with the help of the Music Department and the financial backing of the Louis Armstrong Foundation, the Center has expanded to offer 12 classes, attended by one out of eight students in Columbia College as well as by students in other schools within the University. The enrollment for Washburnes jazz course is one of the largest in the music departments history, with 225 students. During a lecture last spring, he darted from one end of the room to the other, playing various recorded versions of the Cuban classic The Peanut Vendor, and explaining how Louis Armstrong reinterpreted it in the late 1920s. Armstrong didnt know Spanish; when he came to the word for peanut, mani, the master improviser substituted the name Marie and scatted his way through the rest.
On most Sunday nights, the professor can be found at Smoke, playing with his Latin jazz band, SYOTOS (for See You On The Other Side), and his students are more than likely either playing with him or listening in the audience. In addition to nurturing more jazz musicians, were hoping to help develop a future jazz fan base, he explains.
Ensemble members are hooked on Washburnes enthusiasm and candor, and theyre unafraid of his exacting attention to craft or the work he demands of them. Chris expects us to be professionals and treats us in a like manner, says guitarist Benjamin Fried-Cassorla 04CC. I realized that one day when wed read a chart down perfectly, hitting all the notes. But he reminded us that we hadnt yet addressed the dynamic markings or articulationsa whole other level of music-making.
Members of the Columbia Jazz Ensemble are Niko Higgins, a doctoral candidate in music, on alto saxophone, Adam Keilman 04CC on tenor and soprano saxophones, Daniel Tannenbaum 05CC on trombone, Ben Fried-Cassorla on guitar, Victor Lin, a doctoral candidate, on piano, Paul Steinbeck on bass, Justin Padro 04CC on drums, James Morehead 04CC, and Alex Kontorovich 06GSAS.
Photo: Michael Dames