Friday, September 22

Trying to find their voice


Thriving jazz program battles L.A. obscurity with frequent performances

A&E


It’s funny how the guys of The Deutsch-Marshack Syndicate
have every lady in their audience gushing, and yet, busy playing
their solos, they don’t even seem to know it. The young jazz
sextet is performing on a Saturday night on the third-floor terrace
of Covel Commons.

It’s Casino Night in the dorms, and most people in
attendance, busily gambling away fake money, probably aren’t
even aware that the band is there. But the few people who are
watching the dynamic performance look as though they are completely
mesmerized by the musicians.

At one point, two giggling girls scamper up to the band and
jokingly hand over a fake gambling $100 bill, which is promptly
pocketed by the keyboardist. Later, after an audience member
requests a bossa nova song, the band plays “The Girl From
Ipanema,” which instantly puts second-year physiological
science student Camille Pacis under a love spell.

“I love this song! What’s it called?” Pacis
asks immediately, after which she starts singing part of the
chorus. “Tall and tan, and … how does it go
again?”

After hearing an impressive sax solo, she promises to make her
future son play the sax and suggests going to a jazz club sometime
to her friend.

But if UCLA students want to see live jazz, they don’t
have to travel very far. Jazz is almost always happening on campus,
whether it’s a performance by jazz students or a concert in
Royce Hall through UCLA Live. This year, UCLA Live has featured a
balance between newer, up-and-coming names in jazz such as Stefon
Harris and several bigger names like Keith Jarrett, who is
scheduled to perform in Royce on March 12 and Wayne Shorter, who is
scheduled to perform April 9.

“Jazz is a really important part of our program and every
year we have at least one major jazz series,” said UCLA Live
Director David Sefton. “That’s how it’s always
been. Jazz, historically, has been one of the mainstays of the
program at Royce Hall.”

In fact, Duke Ellington made his American concert-performance
debut at Royce in 1937, when he played a four-hour free concert for
students.

There are also numerous performances by jazz students on campus.
At a recent concert at the Fowler Museum, second-year trombonist
Nick DePinna performed his cover in 7/4 meter of Incubus’
radio hit “Stellar” with his group the Goodkind-DePinna
Collective. The next week, bandmate and fifth-year pianist Jeff
Goodkind got students at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center of Jewish
Life at UCLA on Hilgard Avenue up and dancing to the rhythms of his
salsa band “Oye.”

Consider the fact that there are 32 jazz studies students at
UCLA and that each one is involved in multiple bands, many of which
perform on campus. DePinna is involved in five different projects,
while Deutsch-Marshack Syndicate and fourth-year trumpeter Elliot
Deutsch is in 10 and Goodkind simply doesn’t keep track.

“If I started counting, I’d probably go
crazy,” he said.

Also, the jazz studies program itself always presents two
concerts at the end of each quarter, one featuring the smaller
combo ensembles, and the other featuring the program’s two
big bands. The Jazz Showcase Concert featuring the combo ensembles
is scheduled to perform March 14, and the big-band concert is
scheduled to perform the next night. Both are scheduled to be held
in Schoenberg Hall and are free and open to the public.

But since these concerts presented by the jazz studies program
only occur once each quarter, according to Deutsch, a lot of people
don’t even know about UCLA’s jazz studies program,
which jazz great Herbie Hancock once said has the best jazz faculty
in the United States.

“A lot of people don’t even realize we have a jazz
program,” Deutsch said. “And (the performing groups of
the program) don’t really play around campus very often, as
much as we should.”

Perhaps many people are also unaware of the program since it has
always been considerably small and is still relatively new, having
been formed in 1997. Still, many jazz students and faculty members
are proud of how far the program has come since its inception. Most
will note the greater number of applicants that the program now
receives. The competition for admission is fiercer and as a result,
better jazz students are coming to UCLA.

This is something that Kenny Burrell, jazz studies program
director and jazz guitarist, proudly attributes to his faculty of
world-renown musicians.

“To me, we’ve all become better teachers,”
Burrell said. “All of the jazz faculty. And the reputation of
the program has spread. … We’re getting better
students.”

With his legendary status in the jazz world, Burrell has been
able to attract some of the best working jazz musicians in the
industry.

“Because it’s Kenny Burrell; he has such a marvelous
and far-flung relationship with major artists, many of them
legends, because he goes back enough,” said The Jazz Bakery
owner and UCLA jazz vocals Professor Ruth Price. “His whole
career spans so much time that he’s able to draw on marvelous
big names.”

Newly appointed jazz ensemble Professor Charley Harrison said
what sets the UCLA jazz studies program apart and what really
influenced his decision to come to UCLA to teach is the fact that
the faculty members are working professionals who have not
abandoned their career in music to work as educators.

“L.A. is probably one of the only places where that could
happen,” Harrison said. “If you were teaching at a
university in a more rural area, there wouldn’t be the
opportunity to work as a professional so much.”

Despite the jazz program’s world-renown faculty, just how
much the UCLA Jazz Studies Program has improved and how it ranks
nationally, however, is still debatable.

“Based on what I read about the faculties of other
schools, there’s none better than ours in terms of their
ability as musicians and their standing in the jazz world,”
Burrell said. “I don’t know if we’re the best,
but I don’t think they’re any better than ours. So in
that sense, we’re at the top.”

But Price feels the young program still needs time to grow.

“No, I don’t think it is (one of the best collegiate
jazz programs in the nation), but I think that’s because
it’s a late starter, and I think it’s certainly
catching up,” she said. “(UCLA) was one of the final
major schools to come to the realization that it needed a jazz
studies program.”

Many agree that the program’s biggest weakness is a lack
of certain jazz-specific courses like jazz composition, jazz
arranging and orchestration and jazz music business that they feel
is necessary for a complete jazz studies program. The
program’s biggest challenge then is budget constraints, which
have prevented such courses from being formed.

But beyond anything that has to do with the Jazz Studies Program
itself, perhaps people at UCLA don’t know the jazz program
exists because jazz is still not a highly popular musical
genre.

“Compared to New York, (the jazz scene in Los Angeles) is
subpar,” Price said. “This is possibly the worst, the
most difficult of all the cities, to get people out to listen to
anything like that. Jazz always has a smaller audience than rock or
rap or any of the others.”

Despite the efforts by UCLA Live and the campus faculty to
promote jazz, artists performing at venues throughout Los Angeles
often find themselves playing in front of significantly smaller
crowds than in other major cities.

“Performers come to (The Jazz Bakery) usually straight
from touring,” Price said. “They’re usually
coming from San Francisco, where they can have lines around the
block in a rainstorm there, and they get here and will have two
dozen people on opening night.”

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