Jazz duo JT Project started at William Paterson University

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The JT Project
The JT Project
Contemporary jazz
Friday, July 9, 2010, 11:45 p.m.

The Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY

Down in the catacombs of William Paterson University's music department one afternoon in 2007, Jacob Webb, a freshman jazz major from Kansas, heard a voice that drew him in like a siren song.

He followed the melody as it grew louder down the maze-like hallway of practice rooms.

“It was the most beautiful sound I heard in a long time," said Webb, 21. “I thought, 'Where is this sound coming from?' “

While it's usually considered bad form to interrupt a musician practicing, Webb entered the room where then-sophomore Todd Schefflin, 22, was playing a Cannonball Adderley tune on his alto saxophone.

“It was a beautiful moment. We officially met," said Webb, who plays the bass and piano.

From that day on, the two musicians have been friends and performing partners, booking gigs together as “The JT Project." Last summer they hit the studio to self-release their first album, “Love, Passion, Correspondence," a contemporary jazz LP with hip-hop and R&B influences.

Common bonds

On the surface the pair couldn't be more opposite. Schefflin, with tight-blond curls, was a former lacrosse player turned alto-sax enthusiast. He grew up in a Jewish family in Cherry Hill. Webb comes from a small town in Kansas, where his first gigs were playing on Sundays in his Baptist church.

But listen to these young artists talk about why they create music, and they sound like twins separated at birth.

“Our beliefs are very similar about the world around us," said Schefflin on a recent afternoon. “Music is an emotional release. We both feel that life is not about music. Music is about life. ... The only way to truly say something through music is to experience life."

Webb, seated nearby, added, “Through our music there is a story. The story is life."

When the duo performs, their connection is palpable.

“The audience can see them going back and forth, playing off each other," said Chris Pattishall, a pianist and graduate student at William Paterson who has performed with the group. “You can see them smiling back and forth, and they sometimes actually get up and jump back and forth as the intensity of the music builds."

It's not uncommon for jazz students to collaborate on projects, added Pattishall, but Schefflin and Webb's singular devotion to their band is quite unique.

“The JT Project has invested a level of energy into a whole package to promote and present a band identity, which I haven't seen other people doing," he said.

A team effort

All but one of the 11 tracks on their debut album were composed by Webb, who creates songs out of the raw material of his experiences. “Leavin Home" is a bittersweet but hopeful melody about the first time he left his hometown of Newton, Kan. “Louisa" chronicles an intense two-day friendship with a young woman he met on campus. Alternating between fast and slow sections, the song captures the empathy he felt for this woman, who revealed her deepest insecurities to him.

But if Webb is the lead writer, Schefflin is the album's narrator. Throughout the tracks, his smooth and confident alto saxophone grips listeners. “With any music there needs to be a communicator. We want to show you can transcend vocals, that you can communicate to people without any lyrics," said Schefflin. “There's something about my sound that compelled him to talk to me on that first day ... that I can connect vocally with an audience."


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