Ready for some jazz? Small Jazz Ensembles performances are kicking off this Sunday. They are all at 7 PM at the Cat in the Cream!
Other performances this week: Tues April 22, Thurs April 24, and Sunday April 27.
In the ever-morphing landscape of today’s worldwide music scene, the only constant is change.
This much is true for Beards, both musically and otherwise. Just a few weeks ago, the band was called The Men With Short Beards (see Part I of this ongoing feature), and just a few months ago, they were touring China, bringing a mix of popular music and free jazz to club audiences, while teaching schoolchildren the art of improvisation.
And now, back to our interview with Beards, the fiery group consisting of seniors Steve Becker (guitar), Duncan Standish (drums), Nate Mendelsohn (alto sax), and Cory Todd (drums).
Now that Chinese audiences have connected with your music and style, what do you think they’ll want next?
Nate: What a confusing first question!
Nate: What I mean is, we don’t know if and when we’re going back to China.
Steve: But we do want to go back. Cause it did seem that audiences connected with the music.
Duncan: So probably what they’ll want next is just more music. A deepening of the style that we’ve already shown them, and more songs, new material.
Cool. Tell us a story about teaching the students at the international school.
Cory: The overall gist of the visit mostly involved us introducing some really strange musical experiments to the students, things that we were afraid might be inaccessible. But the students actually ended up loving it, understanding it, and throwing themselves into free improvisation. It was a really cool experience.
Duncan: The best story is probably the whole final concert with the students. We performed first, but then brought up the students for a couple of really zany pieces.
Steve: We ended up performing a couple improvisations that we came up with earlier that week. They were called “Purple Cupcakes” and “Voyage to the Sun”, which should give you a perfect picture of what they sounded like.
Nate: And then we got to play one of our original songs with their 70-piece string orchestra, which was pretty surreal. It was amazing but totally strange to go from playing a coffee shop in Oberlin to performing in China with orchestral accompaniment. That was a highlight for me.
You mentioned in Part I that you all grew up listening to music other than jazz. What are some of those specific musical influences, whether on the group as a whole or as individuals?
Steve: Yep…Nate loves Radiohead. Actually, though we all met here as jazz performance majors, we all grew up listening to a bunch of different kinds of music.
Duncan: A small minority of the albums I’d take to a desert island would be jazz. Maybe none.
Nate: Yeah me too. Maybe.
Cory: No. No, I’d definitely bring some.
Steve: Yeah me too. I’d take the Miles Davis Quintet’s Plugged Nickel box set. But my favorite bands growing up were Rage Against the Machine and Incubus.
Cory: I definitely grew up listening to guys like Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, even a few country artists like Tim McGraw. But my tastes have changed drastically over the years.
Nate: RADIOHEAD (laughing). But actually, Radiohead, Elliott Smith…Ornette.
Duncan: Yeah, we have a lot of overlap. As a band we’re definitely inspired by The Bad Plus, Ornette Coleman, but also The Dirty Projectors, D’Angelo, Messiaen, a ton of other stuff.
Tell us more about Terry Hsieh ‘12’s Jazz Meets East program.
Nate: Terry’s got a really great thing going with Jazz Meets East. Each year he books shows and teaches residencies around Beijing for an Oberlin jazz group. And he pretty much guides us around the city, which is great ‘cause Terry is awesome to hang with and is super knowledgeable about Beijing’s music and culture.
Cory: Or Tear Bear, as we like to call him.
Duncan: And the program keeps getting better. Next year the embassy will be involved, which is super exciting. It seems like Terry is taking measures to make sure the trip not only continues, but grows bigger and better.
What was the biggest cultural difference you feel you encountered while abroad?
Steve: The toilets. Also the language barrier, but definitely the toilets.
Nate: Yeah, it’s strange to be the only four people speaking English in a bus full of Beijing locals. We had a couple of vulgar conversations in public because we knew we could.
Duncan: We hope.
Cory: Navigating the city in general would definitely have been hard without Terry. But honestly, with the help we had it wasn’t so hard to get accustomed to the daily routine. There are definitely cultural differences, but nothing too difficult to get past. It was a blast.
Stay tuned for Part III of our series, ‘Who are the Beards?’ – an in-depth interview about the band’s experience creating music, traveling, and learning from Oberlin together. Or, go back and refresh your memory as to what happened in Part I.
Interview by Will Roane.
All photos courtesy of Nate Mendelsohn.
More Recital Posters!!
Get the chance to meet Marcus Santos (plus Adriano Dos Santos and Klaus Müller!), have a lot of fun, and learn about Brazilian culture and music tomorrow night at 10, in the Cat in the Cream!
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