This week, the Mirza Jazz Residency brought renowned bassist and composer Ben Allison to Knox to collaborate with jazz artists and poets.
“It’s about as close to one on one working as you can hope to get with a musician of his caliber,” junior Kyle Kunkler said.
The residency, which is enabled by a 3-year grant of $30,000 from the Jerome Mirza Foundation in Bloomington, IL, is the first of its kind at Knox.
The three-day residency from Nov. 12-14 allows students to workshop their compositions and get feedback from Allison and his quartet.
The end product of this interactive and creative collaboration is a concert featuring the Cherry Street Combo, Knox poets and the Ben Allison quartet at 7p.m. Nov. 14 in Harbach Theater.
Director of of Jazz Program Nikki Malley chose Allison because she wanted a program for the students that emphasized flexibility, creativity and spontaneity.
“Knox students are really smart and are thinking about things on a level that not all college students are thinking about,” Malley said.
Six years ago, Allison visited Knox for the Rootabaga Jazz Festival and both Malley and Allison have been working together for the past few months shaping the experience they want the jazz students to get.
“They’re pushing the boundaries of contemporary jazz. [It’s] good to have that perspective, “ senior Josh Calef said of the quartet.
Allison’s music incorporates many other styles such as pop, metal, funk, singer-songwriter, alt and punk, to name a few.
Allison has also done collaborations which focus on West African, South African and Malian music. Thus, his music does not fall under what is typically thought of as jazz, which Mally is hoping students and staff alike will recognize.
“If you go there expecting a jazz show in the typical sense you might be disappointed,” postbaccalaureate Jake Hawrylak said.
Many people associate particular licks, swing patterns and bebop with the jazz genre. However, contemporary jazz focuses on new ways of improvisation as it continues to change in accordance to contemporary American culture. For Allison, improv is still a big part.
“I adore improvised music. I think it adds a wonderful vitally and living aspect to music. If you take away the room for the musician to give something spontaneous, they can’t communicate as well. It becomes less of a conversation and more of a speech,” Kunkler said.
“His music is really pertinent to what students are listening to and the kinds of music students will be interested in and will end up making themselves,” Malley said.
In addition to working with Knox poets and the Cherry Street Combo, the residency included a master class held on Wednesday, November 13 in Harbach for all jazz students, combo members, students and faculty.
Besides this workshop, Allison will also be talking in Malley’s class Music of the African Diaspora about themes the class has been discussing.
The talk will focus on cross cultural collaborations, African aesthetics and their relationship to jazz music, as well as globalism in the digital musical world.
However, a large part of the residency will be devoted to practice and rehearsal with students for the culminating concert.
The structure of the residency allows for the Cherry Street Combo to take center, something that has not happened before and many students appeared excited to expand their endeavors. Things, they said, are changing.
“It was kind of frustrating for the four years I was here,” Hawrylak said. “It was frustrating to see other endeavors in the music department and elsewhere be so readily rewarded when I felt the amount of work people were doing for rewards was not equivalent to what we were doing. We had no other outlet but jazz night.”