Jazz enthusiasts have a rare opportunity to get their groove on without making a trip to the city.
On Sunday, April 5, Mount Vernon Music presents “Get Your Jazz Here,” an afternoon of entertainment from the Paul Unger Trio, with MVM founder and violinist Mark Miller sitting in on a few tango numbers.
The Paul Unger Trio consists of Steve Harlos, piano, Dennis Durick, drums, and Unger on bass.
Normally, MVM set lists lean to the classical, but Miller is looking forward to the having some jazz in the house.
“It will be fun to hear the Steinway [piano] in the hall wearing a different musical costume for this program, which Steve shows off to excellent effect,” Miller said. “Paul is a musician’s musician whether he’s playing classical music or tearing up his bass in jazz, and Dennis is one extremely charismatic drummer.”
Miller says he only recently came to test his own wings in the world of jazz.
“I played with Paul and the trio at the Scat Jazz Lounge in Fort Worth last year,” Miller says. “Taking off on an improvisation felt very much like the musical equivalent of skydiving, only in my case I wasn’t sure there was much of a parachute to help me [get] down!”
Harlos has been playing jazz for 30 years, starting in college with friends who recruited him for small groups and big ensembles. He continues to play jazz because of its “spontaneity and energy.”
Harlos currently serves as staff keyboardist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and is coordinator of piano and collaborative piano at the University of North Texas in Denton. Harlos made his solo debut at Lincoln Center in 1986, performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F.
Harlos is familiar to music lovers in this area. He’s been a featured performer at MVM for several years, and has played chamber music in the district courtroom of the Hopkins County Courthouse.
Harlos counts piano virtuosos Art Tatum (1909-1956), Bill Evans (1929-1980) and Dick Hymen among his role models, and thinks jazz great Miles Davis (trumpet) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone) had a lot of “creative genius.”
His advice for those not familiar with jazz is to “just feel it, don’t analyze it.”
Harlos finds it difficult to define jazz.
“It’s improvisatory music, drawing on many influences, including Western classical, African and South American rhythms, American blues and experimental music, to name a few,” he explained.
When asked to recommend an album for someone just starting out on a jazz journey, Harlos suggests “Kind of Blue,” the classic Miles Davis studio album from 1959.
Paul Unger, the trio’s official leader, is currently the assistant principal bass for the Forth Worth Symphony Orchestra. A native of Oregon, Unger is a graduate of Indiana University and spent two years with the New World Symphony in Miami before coming to Texas in 1995.
He has performed with Ray Charles, Kevin Eubanks (leader of “The Tonight Show” band), Michael Feinstein and Broadway star Bernadette Peters.
Unger is also a member of the critically acclaimed group “Fireside,” a group described as “contemporary jazz at its best,” by Cadence magazine.
The Louisville Observer said of Unger, “…the somewhat unexpected gem … is bassist Paul Unger.”
Unger got involved with jazz by “playing an electric bass in garage bands, thinking I was going to be the next Sting.”
His small high school did not have an orchestra, so he played in the stage band and was bitten by the jazz bug, “and the rest is history,” he says.
Artists like Ray Brown, Leroy Vinnegar, Don Lanphere, Glen Moore and Ralph Towner are among the “many, many” artists who influenced Unger.
“I was very fortunate to grow up in a part of the country where there were many great jazz musicians and where the ‘apprentice style’ of teaching was still how jazz was handed down,” Unger said. “All of these wonderful people would invite me to their houses to jam and would give me records to listen to and teach me about harmony and swinging. It was really a wonderful experience.”
Unger defines jazz as “America’s classical music,” and doesn’t believe it’s an acquired taste.
“Jazz is a very immediate and gut-level experience,” Unger said. “It is only our society’s prejudices and assumptions that prevent more people from enjoying it.”
When asked how the uninitiated can learn to appreciate jazz, Unger has a quick, and thorough, answer.
“Most jazz is based on ‘standards’ of the American songbooks,” he explains. “Instrumental jazz may be difficult for people who are only used to hearing music sung. Classical music suffers from the same problem. Most of the standards of instrumental jazz are based on popular songs that everyone knew [back then]. Today, most people do not know a lot of those songs.”
Unger says it’s important to remember that when jazz first appeared, it was the rock ‘n’ roll of its time.
“Rid your mind of any feelings that this music is old or fuddy-duddy,” he says. “It was dance music; it was rhythmically energetic; it was explosive and provocative; and it was dramatic, emotional and beautiful.”
Unger’s suggestions to enhance the listening experience for jazz newcomers include:
* Get some essential recordings. Some of Unger’s recommendations include “Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings” (1927-1928) by Louis Armstrong, along with “The Blanton/Webster Band” (1939-1941) by Duke Ellington “The Complete Savoy and Dial Recordings” (1945-1950) by Charlie “Bird” Parker, “The Shape of Jazz to Come” (1959) by Ornette Coleman, “My Funny Valentine” (1964) by Miles Davis, “A Love Supreme and Crescent” (1965) by John Coltrane with Miles Davis, and “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane.
He also advises jazz neophytes to do the following things to appreciate the genre:
* Listen and feel the energy of the music;
* Feel the strength of the rhythm; and
* Learn to hear and recognize the melody before concentrating on the solos.
Unger also has a suggested listening list of younger artists who, he says, knock him out:
* Brad Mehldau
* Jim Black
* Vijay Iyeer
* Dave Douglas
* Steve Coleman
* Matthew Shipp
* Christian McBride
In wrapping up his riff on the jazz genre, Unger said, “Everybody is different, and I think it is more important to find something you like and really dig deep into it and let that lead you to different jazz artists and styles.”
Get Your Jazz Here will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 5. Tickets are $10 for members of MVM, $15 for non-members, with students and children under 12 free. For more information, call 903-563-3790 or visit the website:
This is the second in our series about the world of jazz. Check out upcoming editions for an interview with Melody Gardot, one music’s brightest stars, and for a look at the
50th anniversary reissue of Miles Davis’ 1959 landmark recording,“Kind of Blue.”
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