Don't Bother the Bassist

Updated: Nov 30, 2017

We were late. We took the wrong exit off Route 8 and had to turn around. I volunteered to pick up my classmates, Cheryse and Tariq, on the way there, and none of us had ever gone to Yale for a concert before. By the time we got to there, we looked like true college students: totally lost. We walked around in the cold and asked a few strangers, until we found the right building, the right door to walk through. As we go up the elevator, we can hear the music already. Shoot, we missed the beginning.


The ushers by the entrance were really nice - they said the jazz recitals are usually more casual, so a late arrival is accepted. But enter quietly, they are in the middle of the bass solo. As we walk in, tip-toeing, holding onto our programs tight so as to not crinkle and make a noise, I hear the bass. All is quiet - the bass is the only instrument playing. The bassist, Jeff Fuller, is effortlessly sliding up and down, plucking, twisting and bending the notes. He’s gentle and fiery. We sit down, our seats creaking a bit. The bass solo is the beginning of Haitian Fight Song, by Charles Mingus. The solo leads to a gentle build up with other instruments slowly joining in to eventually become so loud the air leaves my lungs and I smile in joy. There are six solos in this piece, and they all traded off perfectly, sometimes quieter, sometimes louder. Each instrument performed in perfect sync with the others.


As the piece goes on, we reach the alto saxophone solo. I am not much of a saxophone person, it’s just not an instrument I am usually drawn to - or so it was until I saw Hersh Gupta stand up and perform his solo. Hersh didn’t even look at his sheet music. His eyes were closed, his fingers moved fast, and the air from his lungs seemed unnaturally strong. Brass instruments must do wonders for your breathing. You could feel his passion for his craft - his heart truly shined through his instrument.


The next piece, Meditation for Moses by Charles Mingus (arr. B. Kozlov), was quieter. Fuller and Gupta were the only soloists of the piece, which allowed me to further experience their sound and technique. The bass guitar was my first instrument and I am fascinated by the upright bass. I love every chance I get to watch it up close.


The next piece, I Remember Clifford by Benny Golson (arr. S. Nestico) was very slow paced, and featured the trumpet as the main part. Theo Van Dyck took the front slot and delivered a trumpet lead that was smooth and sensual. The sound traveled as the audience swayed from side to side in their seats.


The recital ended with Caravan(s), by Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol (arr. Tom Bergeron/Mike Tomaro). This piece had a lot of movement, and a lot happened during its performance. I noticed the guitar player, JJ Borja. He seemed very lost for most of the piece. He was sitting near his guitar amplifier, and was having a hard time gauging his volume. For most of the piece, the guitar was too quiet. During his solo, he had it much too loud. He tried to make it work the best he could, but his confusion was visible. Regardless of that, the piece was powerful, with seven different solos: tenor saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, trombone again, and drums. It made you want to move in your seat. I wish I could have gotten up to dance.


Throughout the entire recital, my absolute favorite part was watching the conductor, Thomas C. Duffy. He was energetic and moved along with each piece. He communicated not only with his hands and arms, but with his entire body. He moved around the stage, shimmied in between parts, and did it all oh so gracefully. After the recital ended, my classmates and I approached Mr. Duffy, introduced ourselves, and thanked him for their performance. He was very courteous and was very excited to hear we were all studying music.


The Yale Jazz Ensemble did a wonderful job on this fall recital, and it left us wanting more. The recital marks the beginning of the year, and a taste of what is yet to come. I hope to join them for more concerts, and I am looking forward to continuing to explore jazz, a genre I hadn’t connected with - until now.


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© 2017 by THAT VIRGINIA

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