Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Jazz in Bama: State home to vibrant musical community

Daniel Western of the Birmingham Seven is just one of the jazz and blues musicians who will be performing at the Druid City Arts Festival. He says the Alabama jazz scene is fairly vibrant, but one must look for it.

“I got into jazz really when I got to college,” Western said. “Me being a saxophonist in middle school and high school, I was always drawn to music that involved the sax and also because jazz was not the popular music of the day.”

The Birmingham Seven is composed of four UA faculty, all involved in the jazz studies department, and two Birmingham professors.

“We started off in 2007, and we started playing transcriptions from iconic records like Oliver Nelson and albums by Quincy Jones and Lee Morgan. Then we started adding our own arrangements, then came our own original compositions and we just released our first album in 2012,” Western said.

The state of Alabama boasts a number of blues and jazz greats such as Nat King Cole of Montgomery and Cleve Eaton of Fairfield.

Heather Payne, program curator at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, was instantly inspired by Eaton’s “punchy” sound.

“Cleve Eaton was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra, performing with the likes of Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald,” Heather Payne, program curator at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Museum, said. “Cleve stills gigs around Birmingham pretty frequently.”

Payne began her foray into the Alabama jazz scene after learning to play the flute in seventh grade.

“I instantly wanted to play just like [Eaton], never mind the fact that I was a little white girl with classical training trying to spit hot, punchy jazz on a cheap flute,” Payne said. “I still try to imitate his sort of slap-bass punchiness in a lot of my own improvisations via my articulation.”

Western teaches jazz history at Shelton State Community College and explained that jazz’s roots began with the intermingling of Southern slave songs and Western European music. He said he thinks it’s important to keep jazz alive in Southern culture.

“Jazz found its birth in America and even more than that, it found its birth in the South,” Western said. “It is us. It is the music of our history.

Payne believes jazz continues to be an important part of the Alabama scene because of the joy it brings to both the listener and the musician.

“If you have ever stood up to take a spontaneous improvised solo, you know how it feels – terrifying, but also magical,” Payne said. “You just trust yourself and even if what you play isn’t great, your fellow musicians won’t judge, as long as you go home, get a little closer to your instrument, and come in to your next rehearsal excited and feeling great. One can’t know this feeling exactly unless one experiences it, but here in Alabama, many of us do.”

Although jazz music may not be the most popular genre, it can prove to be worthwhile if given the proper attention.

“It takes a little bit more intense listening than, let’s say a Justin Bieber song; nothing against Justin Bieber, you just wont find the same chord qualities and tone dissonance,” Western said.

Alabama continues to produce talented jazz musicians, often cultivating their talents at the collegiate level.

Ben Carrasquillo, a sophomore majoring in jazz studies, plays the trombone in the UA jazz ensemble. He followed in his sister’s footsteps after first hearing her play in their middle school jazz band.

“I don’t think jazz music is on the descent; I think it’s getting more and more popular as more people are getting exposed to it,” Carrasquillo said.

Payne said jazz music has become more of a niche interest since its beginnings.

“I would like to think that those who love and appreciate now do so more than ever, partly due to the fact that it has become more of a niche interest,” Payne said. “Jazz music isn’t as widely played or listened to, but those who do listen or play tend to be extremely involved and active listeners.”

Jazz bands can be found playing in a multitude of music venues. Birmingham offers places like Marty’s, The Wine Loft and Ona’s Music Room, while Tuscaloosa’s Alcove is host to many a jazz ensemble.

Festivals like DCAF provide locals the opportunity to experience the music Alabama, and more specifically, Tuscaloosa, has to offer.

“A lot of times we get the idea that just because it’s local it’s not quite as good,” Western said. “When it comes to art, we’re looking to New York, L.A., Paris; the big cities, and I want everybody to know that towns like Tuscaloosa and Birmingham produce really talented musicians and artists, and if you’re in these towns you need to support them because they’re representing us well in the arts community.”

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