Two bands from New York State have been announced as finalists for the inaugural Generations International Competition for Emerging Combos sponsored by the International Center for the Arts (ICA) at San Francisco State University. The finalists are the six-piece ensemble Meaningtone, a band that coalesced within the Jazz Studies Program at the State University of New York at Purchase, and the Nial Djuliarso Quartet, a New York City-area combo with roots at the Julliard School of Music.
The two groups will be flown to San Francisco for several days of workshops with Generations mentor musicians Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet), Ronnie Mathews (piano), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Ray Drummond (bass) and Generations artistic director Andrew Speight (alto sax). On May 15, the bands will take part in a Battle of the Combos" at the new San Francisco venue of famed Bay Area jazz club Yoshi's. Their performances will be judged by the Generations mentors, and the overall competition winner immediately announced. At stake is a one-year fellowship residency at San Francisco State University, including intensive group mentorship by the Generations musicians and a series of distinguished guest artists.
The Generations mentors, who have coalesced into a dynamic performing ensemble themselves, will also take the stage, making for a full night of compelling jazz: two up-and-coming ensembles fighting for a single prestigious residency and two sets by an all-star band of jazz masters.
A unique competition inspired by a reverence for jazz tradition
The Generations International Competition and Fellowship for Emerging Jazz Combos is the brainchild of SFSU School of Music faculty member, Andrew Speight and Dr. Jeffrey Babcock, executive director of the ICA. Dr. Babcock says that the competition's focus on ensembles rather than individual instrumentalists makes the project unique in the jazz world.
Academic jazz training focuses so much on individual technique," Dr. Babcock explains, but establishing a high-quality ensemble sound is the most challenging aspect of jazz. Andrew and I both wanted to provide in-depth mentorship for young ensembles poised to launch careers, so we created a competition specifically designed for career-entry level bands. And we assembled a group of renowned, veteran musicians to provide a real-world laboratory for the winning combo. For a young band, there's no substitute for this kind of comprehensive, intensive learning and performing experience."
Two bands rise above an international field
Last fall, ICA sent word of the competition to over 250 university jazz programs around the world. The competition criteria called for groups of four to seven instrumentalists, 30 years of age or younger, with all members holding at least a Bachelors degree or equivalent training. Each group was asked to record three songs from among a short list of medium tempo blues and jazz standards like Thelonious Monk's Straight No Chaser" and John Coltrane's Moment's Notice." The Generations band members judged the recorded entries in mid-March, listening for bands with the best ensemble interplay, the tightest grooves and the most imaginative voicings. Meaningtone and the Nial Djuliarso Quartet stood out.
Meaningtone is a powerful post bop/hard bop sextet with identical instrumentation as the Generations band. The group is comprised of Andrew Gould (alto sax), Sam Dillon, (tenor sax), Max Darche (trumpet), Nick Consol (piano), Nate Allen (bass) and band leader Manuel Weyand (drums). In addition to their work together in and around New York City, the band members have studied and performed with artists including James Moody, Jon Faddis and Ray Vega.
The Nial Djuliarso Quartet, offering a sound rooted in the tradition of artists like Clifford Brown and Horace Silver, provides substance to the international aspect of the competition. While trumpeter Bruce Harris is from the Bronx and drummer Carmen Intorre hails from Buffalo, bassist Yasushi Nakamura was raised in Seattle but born in Tokyo, and pianist Nial Djuliarso comes from Jakarta, Indonesia. Intorre, Nakamura and Djuliarso are all products of Julliard, and individually these young players have shared stages with musicians including Curtis Fuller, Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis and Hank Jones.
A return to community-based education and the mentorship tradition
The group sound is the real soul of jazz," Speight says, The bands of musicians like Mile Davis, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey advanced the music through the ensemble sounds they created. And information was passed down through communities, in jam sessions, through oral history and within the groups themselves. The Generations project is about re-focusing on the ensemble, and getting back to mentorship-based education. And having Jimmy Cobb and Ray Drummond involved is invaluable. These are musicians who were right there in the trenches when the basic concepts of this music were being worked out. They have first-hand knowledge of history nobody else has access to."
The musicians of the two finalist combos are particularly in tune with this message.
We feel unbelievably fortunate to be a part of this program," says Meaningtone's Weyand, closely echoing Speight's sentiments. Receiving this level of mentorship as a band is very special. The most important musicians reached high levels of artistry by working within the same bands for years. That's really what jazz is about: the collaborative effort of forging individual musicians into a group sound." An expanding program of activities
In addition to the annual Emerging Jazz Combos Competition and fellowship, there is a growing array of plans in the works for the Generations project as a whole. The Generations ensemble is putting the finishing touches to both a music CD and an instructional DVD, and a series of concert performances is in the works as well. An introductory concert on the San Francisco State campus kicking off the program last October was a rousing success, getting the collaboration between these performing and mentorship partners off to a terrific start.
For more information
For more information about the Generations International Competition for Emerging Jazz Combos, the finalist bands and the Generations ensemble, please contact Jerry Karp at (415) 731-6468 or email@example.com. Yoshi's San Francisco is located at 1330 Fillmore Street in the beautiful new Fillmore Heritage Center. Tickets to the May 15 Generations Competition concert are $12.00 and available from Yoshi's at http://sfyoshis.inticketing.com.
About the International Center for the Arts at San Francisco State University
Founded in 2005 with a generous gift from San Francisco State University alumni George and Judy Marcus, the International Center for the Arts is an interdisciplinary creative, research and producing organization focused on the future of the arts in a global society. ICA activities include the DOC Film Institute, visual arts exhibitions and related activities, and career-entry fellowships for gifted emerging artists, currently in string quartet and jazz. The Center pursues collaborative partnerships that connect the University with leading local and international cultural and academic institutions and distinguished individuals in the arts, sciences and technology.
ICA's DOC Film Institute will present the world premiere of its production, Cachao: Uno Mas," a tribute to Israel Cachao" Lopez, the Father of the Mambo, at the San Francisco International Film Festival. An ICA exhibition, Pacific Light: California Watercolor Refracted, 1907-2007, which was presented at the SFSU Fine Arts Gallery in fall 2007, will be presented in an expanded edition at the Nordiska Akvarellmuseet (Nordic Watercolor Museum) beginning in mid-May. The ICA's first fellowship quartet, the Afiara String Quartet, has been invited to compete, in May, at the 6th Osaka (Japan) International Chamber Music Competition. For more information, please visit our website.