Pillbox

Student jazz musicians impress audiences

Students from the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School perform one of their jazz compositions. (credit: Tommy Hofman | Photo Staff) Students from the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School perform one of their jazz compositions. (credit: Tommy Hofman | Photo Staff)

For many, jazz has always been like the taste of an expensive wine: something adults have taken the time to appreciate, something that we should learn to love. I regret to tell you that I haven’t taken enough time to enjoy either one; the legs of a white wine are still as unimpressive as the poetic meter inherent in jazz.

Given my own disinterest in adult sophistication, it was surprising to see that a group of kids my age were passionate enough to perform at Carnegie Music Hall last Wednesday. Even more surprising: that I slowly became excited to see those kids (Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, Carnegie Mellon’s 6:30 Jazz Ensemble, and Virginia Wesleyan College) play. Would they be the ones able to break the stuffy spell looming over poor instrumental music’s head? Could one finally look past the whispers of the acoustic guitar to which many have grown so accustomed?

The concert was not the idealistic showing of young support I had imagined, especially for a traditionally experimental, raunchy form of music. It seemed as if the intellectual, incomprehensible stigma I had attached to jazz was not mine alone. Less than a hundred students had said they were attending the event on Facebook, and even fewer seemed to fill the auditorium. Given that the tickets were free with a Carnegie Mellon ID, this was a little disappointing.

Those participating in the performance, however, lived up to lofty expectations. All the gears that make up the musical machine called jazz — call and response, instrumental poetry, cool cats — were present and turning, springing the formerly hollow machine to life. The musicians were totally immersed in what they were playing.

As a visual learner, the easiest way to express the appeal of jazz I discovered that night is by likening it to modern art. Most outsiders are made uncomfortable by the thought of a Jackson Pollock selling for millions. Most protests are along the lines of “I could do that” or “that’s just scribbles — there’s no real meaning in it.”

Discounting the fact that most musicians practice for years to be able to perform at a venue like Carnegie Music Hall, you could make the argument that free-flowing solos could be done by almost anyone, or that because jazz usually isn’t dripping with melodramatic lyrics about lost love, it’s not charged with enough meaning or emotion. Your argument wouldn’t go very far. In the performance last Wednesday, each verse was filled with well-rehearsed precision, each solo with creative, clever improvisation.

Terence Einhorn, a sophomore in decision science and a performer in the Carnegie Mellon 6:30 Jazz Ensemble, summed up his experience. “It was nice,” he said. “No one showed up, but whatever.” Maybe jazz will always be foreign to young people looking for the next easy-to-swallow pop song. But to those who take the time to appreciate it, jazz can be quite enjoyable.