What a tour de force! Orangeburg on Tuesday night experienced the Claflin University Jazz Ensemble, featuring James Carter under the direction of one Vincent A. Chandler. Well, a fortunate cadre of Orangeburg cognoscenti did, anyway.
For Claflinites, Orangeburgers, and others who did not get that privilege, let me highlight some of what y’all missed.
Chandler arranged and curated a program tightly focused on the development of his students and of a meaningful jazz scene at Claflin. The Music Department’s burgeoning jazz concentration within the music major bolsters a small but scrappy instrumental program, which means that the Jazz Ensemble often consists of dedicated students who work within irregular instrumental arrangements. Not to be discouraged, Chandler takes what most would consider to be a formidable challenge as his opportunity to create beautiful arrangements for this group.
Kicking off this group’s portion of the program with “African Flower” came through as Chandler channeling his inner Ellington: he writes arrangements with specific players and their strengths in mind. Carter exploded onto the stage, laying his gigantic tone over the gorgeous, reedy textures already crying poignant trans-Atlantic trade winds early in this powerful performance.
With only a day’s interaction behind them, Carter and the ensemble coaxed a beautiful bloom from the frame of Chandler’s thoughtful arrangement. The Duke proved to be a unifying theme later in the show as the audience panted and screamed its way through thoroughly sensuous collaborations on “In a Sentimental Mood” and Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” What a way to hear the history of this musical idiom through the voices of its heirs!
Chandler and friends did not stop there, however. His trademark scat on Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere” made perfect sense opposite Carter’s hat tips to Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, the Prez, Hawkins, ‘Trane, and so many others. We have grown accustomed to Chandler’s standout trombonifications here at Claflin, but they took on even more power in context with one of his mentors. Seeing that interaction on what Carter calls the “sacred space” of the stage was pure fun, but it also had an organic creative authenticity that characterizes truly profound performances.
These were not the only interactions that mattered in that space Tuesday night, either.
The show opened with a trio out of Columbia that nurtures a South Carolina Midlands jazz scene. For students to trade choruses and tunes with the Jay Ware and friends offers them and the audience an important reminder that we need to support local artists. These cats fully deserve that support for their classy warm-up of a crowd whose numbers betrayed the enthusiasm in the concert hall, for their devotion to the art form, and for the fine example they set for younger players and listeners. One of those young listeners sat rapt on my lap for the entire two-hour show.
Chandler, Carter, Dr. McGee and friends, if musicians can get a 5-year-old to do that on top of everything else this concert offered, they can do just about anything. “Music in its most profound state,” as James Carter observed in an earlier masterclass, “produces life.” It definitely produced a bouncing, happy spark of life for my son and me, as for the crowd that hung around for a half hour after the show.
The only questions left now have to do with how Claflin and Orangeburg can get more listeners of all ages into those seats. There’s good news here: #CALABASH2016 continues. Orangeburg, check out the other FREE festivities and join this vibrant campus in celebrating arts and letters!
Peter Hoesing is an assistant professor of music history and ethnomusicology at Claflin University.