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Dan Tepfer gains perspective on his two favorite endeavors by trying things backward.The New York-based jazz piano player shares the positive aspects of that inverse fusion – his artistic talent and fascination with astrophysics – today in Stockton.”I don’t know if it helps directly,” said Tepfer, who’ll emphasize his musical, rather than astrophysical, riffs with members of the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. “But the thing it does – at the very least – is it asks questions.
Dan Tepfer w/ Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Take 5 Jazz at the Brew, 157 W. Adams St., Stockton
Tickets: $10; $5 students
Information: (209) 464-2739
“Like, I practice playing piano with my hands reversed. It almost makes it feel like brain science. It makes your brain feel so different.” Tepfer, who grew up in Paris and earned a degree in astrophysics at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, mentors and performs with University of the Pacific students at Take 5 Jazz at the Brew in Stockton. “It’s different every time,” Tepfer said from Brooklyn, N.Y. “But the Brubeck Institute is special. To sit and work with students who are so experienced and really impressive.” Tepfer knows. He and reed player Ben Wendel – they tour and record as a duo – interacted with 2013 Brubeck Institute students in March. Jalon D’Mere Archie (percussion), Max Boiko (trumpet), Scott Britt (guitar), Sarah Kuo (bass) and Joel M. Ross (vibraphone) are new. “Very often, we kind of focus on the basics,” Tepfer said. “We make sure they realize their own importance and how important making some solid growth is. I also try to tell them something about what it’s like to be a musician. “We really get to dig deep and get into more technical things and the more specific, subtle aspects of creating.” Tepfer, who tours with his Dan Tepfer Trio and Chicago saxophonist Lee Konitz, has been doing that most of his life. His now-retired mom, Becky, sang in the Paris Opera Chorus for 25 years. Maternal grandfather Chuck Ruff was a jazz pianist. Tepfer began banging on the family piano at age 4. Still, he was fascinated by that astrophysics thing and the mysteries of science. “I don’t feel I made a real effort at astrophysical study,” he said, though his curiosity and inquisitiveness never have waned. “While I spent more time on music than on astrophysics, I’ve always been fascinated by our brief moment of time in this elegant universe. “I thought I might actually be a scientist, but as much as the idea was fascinating, I actually prefer a working musician’s lifestyle. Music’s what I love.” Knowing music involves both sides of the brain – and what scientific research shows as a uniquely-shaped cortex – he said the “structure of music sometimes requires quasi-mathematical ideas as you construct it. But your emotions have to be engaged as much as possible. “I don’t know if it helps directly, but the thing it does – at the very least – is it asks questions.” So, he seeks answers by inverting his hands. He’s trying another experiment this summer in Le Havre, France. He’ll work with students and teachers in July, then return in August and perform their collaboration: “I always enjoy that. It’s a good way of connecting with people.” Of course, he’ll be right at home. An only child, Tepfer was born in Paris to parents – Becky, the singer, and David, a biologist – who’d emigrated from Eugene, Ore. “I hardly remember a time when music wasn’t central in my life,” Tepfer said. “My mom sang her lungs out every night. I was always really attracted” to piano. “I started kind of alone” at 4, “improvising riffs” on “Jingle Bells.” He learned a classical style in public schools and at Paris Conservatoire-Paul Dukas twice a week. While there’s a “huge appreciation for jazz” in France, it wasn’t taught in school when Tepfer was there, though he did teach himself.Between ages 6 and 12, he heard Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” and the similarly rollicking boogie-woogie style unleashed by James P. Johnson (1894-1955). Recordings by Thelonious Monk (1917-82), Keith Jarrett, 68, and Ahmad Jamal, 83, played major roles in his jazz absorption: “I kind of wore those out,” especially Jamal’s “The Awakening” (from 1970). He continued expanding and experimenting while studying astrophysics in Scotland. He moved to New York in 1983, developing affiliations with Konitz, Wendel and his own trio. He also records and sits in with other musicians. He’s won a variety of competitions and, as U.S. State Department cultural envoy, has traveled to Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Czech Republic. In 2010, he composed a concerto (“The View from Orohena”) for the Prague Castle Guard Orchestra that was premiered at Prague Castle. He’s now working on an album of Cuban and Santeria music and an eighth recording with his trio. He recently finished the five-month task of recording an independent film score (“Movement and Location”). It’s not an astrophysical principle, but a career in jazz can compute: “A big part of it doesn’t make sense. It takes a leap of faith in today’s crazy world. Yes it’s crazy. But it does make sense.”
Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsaurorecord.
One of the highlights of last summer’s Detroit Jazz Festival was a concert performance of Dave and Iola Brubeck’s civil rights-era musical “The Real Ambassadors” — the first complete reading since the 1962 premiere. The staging proved that the work’s balance of humor and progressive politics have aged surprising well, and that a number of rewarding but overlooked Brubeck melodies deserve wider currency.
Now the festival’s artistic director Chris Collins has organized another ambitious Brubeck revival, “The Gates of Justice” (1969), an hour-long oratorio for choir, brass-and-percussion orchestra, jazz trio and vocal soloists from both the African-American and Jewish traditions. Pianist Jason Moran, a leading-edge voice in contemporary jazz, will anchor the ensemble with his trio, Bandwagon, but also offer a set of civil rights-themed music with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Eric McPherson.
Brubeck, who died in 2012 at age 91, was a profound humanist who believed deeply in the values of freedom, racial equality, religious and ethnic diversity and tolerance. “The Gates of Justice” emerged from an era in which he had begun exploring large-scale forms and forces and incorporating texts that reinforced his social concerns. In “Gates of Justice” Brubeck drew on a wide range of sources, including quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., biblical and Hebrew texts and African-American spirituals. The late ’60s were a time of rising tension between blacks and Jews, and Brubeck sought to address these issues directly.
“The essential message of ‘The Gates of Justice’ is the brotherhood of man,” the composer wrote in his original program notes. “Concentrating on the historic and spiritual parallels of Jews and American blacks, I hoped through the juxtaposition and amalgamation of a variety of musical styles to construct a bridge upon which the universal theme of brotherhood could be communicated. The soloists are composite characters. The cantor tenor, whose melodies are rooted in the Hebraic modes, represents the prophetic voice of Hebrew tradition. The black baritone, whose melodies stem from the blues and spirituals, is the symbol of contemporary man, and a reminder to men of all faiths that divine mandates are still waiting to be fulfilled.”
In addition to Moran’s trio, the performers include baritone soloist Emery Stephens and Alberto Mizrahi, a world-renowned cantor and interpreter of Jewish music who contributed to the original performances of “Gates of Justice.” Conductor Norah Duncan IV directs the ensemble and 60-voice choir. Moran, known for his adventurous pianism and conceptualism, is a particularly fascinating choice because he connects the dots between traditional and avant-garde musical ideas and because references to African-American history and culture are so prevalent within his oeuvre. Symbols are important, and uniting a leading black musician of our era with Brubeck, who was sometimes saddled with a Great-White-Hope stigma, sends a powerful message all on its own.
3:30 p.m. Sunday, Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward. 800-745-3000.www.livenation.com. $10.
The New York-based group JazzReach will perform “The First 100 Years of Jazz” for two groups of local students on the Grand Theatre’s Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis stage. The multimedia show combines video and speech with live jazz.
Music students from Tracy and West high schools, Monte Vista Middle School and other schools will be in the audience.
Nick Fryer, associate director of the Brubeck Institute, said he thought it was valuable to take music education to students.
“The state of jazz education is bigger and better than it’s ever been,” Fryer said. “Some of the kids I hear playing are younger and better than ever before.”
The institute, founded in 2001 at Dave Brubeck’s alma mater, continues the life work of the late jazz pianist and composer. Fryer said part of its mission is reaching the community with concerts and workshops.
The JazzReach performance will range from the early roots of jazz in New Orleans to the present day with two shows for students at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“In general, we’re targeting the younger kids, equally talking about history and everything that goes into making music,” Fryer said. “They really focus on education as part of their performance.”
Monte Vista Middle School music teacher Randy McMillan plans to take 150 students to the jazz education program.
“It is really an amazing opportunity for my students to hear about the roots of jazz from professional jazz musicians that have paid their dues and now get to give back playing to students all across the country,” McMillan said.
In addition to a concert band class and an orchestra class during the day, McMillan also has an after-school Tuesday jam session, a Wednesday jazz band and a Friday funk band that plays rock-based jazz music.
McMillan said he would be taking all his music students, including the orchestra and concert band, and hoped they’d all come away with an appreciation of jazz.
“I just want them to get a taste of what jazz is,” McMillan said. “Some will go having never played jazz or never heard jazz — and some will come thinking saying ‘Jazz is cool’ and really liking it.”
Juan Diaz, a seventh-grader, is in the second group. He plays a semi-hollow-body jazz guitar in McMillan’s jazz and funk bands. Though he has never been to a jazz concert, he has followed the blues and swing sounds of artists including B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
“It’s a good opportunity. I want to learn something new,” he said. “I want to experience the music, learn some new techniques.”
Juan said he hoped to perform with a high school jazz band and a jazz group some day.
“I like swing but want to see another style,” Juan said.
McMillan said he was excited for his students to hear professional jazz players in person.
“When you’re a young musician growing up, you don’t get that opportunity very often, unless it’s on recordings,” he said. “It’s an amazing event.”
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Spring Season starts today with the Simon Rowe Latin Project. Music starts at 7pm. Come on out!
The two volumes of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz at the College of the Pacific on the Fantasy label have never received quite the degree of acclaim that met Jazz at Oberlin, recorded earlier in 1953. That’s a puzzle; The C.O.P. albums often equal the brilliance of Oberlin and of the phenomenally successful Jazz Goes to College, the quartet’s first LP for Columbia.
Having blazed the trail that opened college campuses to performances by major jazz groups, Brubeck’s C.O.P. concert was a triumphal return to his alma mater and a highlight of his band’s dozens of campus appearances in the early 1950s. In the week of the concert’s 50th anniversary and a year after Brubeck’s death at 91, we welcome Professor Keith Hatschek of what is now the University of the Pacific. Professor Hatschek writes for Rifftides about the event and the recording.