Entertainment Highlights: From San Francisco to the Barbary Coast
Guest Artist Adam Theis conducts students in the horn section of the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble during a rehearsal for Saturday's performance at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 22, 2013.
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Guest Artist Adam Theis studies a line of music while leading the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble during a practice at Hartman practice hall at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 22, 2013.
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Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble director Don Glasgo plays the trombone during a rehearsal at the Hartman rehearsal hall at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 22, 2013.
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Dustin, a recovering addict, walks through a field in a scene from The Hungry Heart, a film about addiction in Vermont. The movie plays Thursday night at 7 at the Wilder Arts Center, and Sunday night at 7 at Norwich Town Hall. (Courtesy Photograph) Purchase photo reprints »
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For more than 30 years, the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, a Dartmouth College student band under the direction of Don Glasgo, has brought guest artists to the campus and the Upper Valley. Glasgo’s longtime focus has been to introduce newer forms and styles of jazz to audiences rather than relying on the tried-and-true Big Band sound that people associate with the 1940s and 1950s.
Glasgo brings large ensemble compositions and sounds that “aren’t heard very often in the Upper Valley,” he said in a phone interview. “I try to do a lot of Latin and funk stuff in a big band context. ... I’m not interested in swing-style big bands that are recreating the past but aren’t moving music forward.”
Moving music forward is one of the guiding principles of Adam Theis, the San Francisco musician and composer who will play at 8 p.m. this Saturday with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble in Spaulding Auditorium at the Hopkins Center. Theis (pronounced Thee-iss) directs the San Francisco Jazz Mafia, a consortium of Bay Area bands and ensembles. The program will consist of Theis’ compositions, his arrangements of three Michael Jackson songs, and an arrangement of George Gershwin’s Summertime , from Porgy and Bess .
“There is a kind of organic feeling to (Theis’) music that I like a lot. It all comes from the groove,” said Glasgo. This isn’t knotty abstraction that’s hard to listen to, he said, but neither is it E-Z listening Muzak. A club owner told Glasgo that “everything Adam does sounds like today.”
Theis, who grew up in northern California and now lives in Oakland, started playing the trombone when he was a kid. But he didn’t really get serious about it until high school, when something clicked and he realized he wanted to make a career of it
“Something happened with the way that I thought about it,” he said in a phone interview. Part of his turn toward music as an avocation was, he said, “being around other people who had a passion for it and were displaying it.”
He studied music at Sonoma State University and has played with a Who’s Who of musicians, including Carlos Santana, Booker T. Jones, Liz Phair, Mickey Hart (the composer and percussionist with the Grateful Dead) and Bobby McFerrin. In addition to the trombone, Theis also plays bass, trumpet, tuba and keyboards.
But his approach to playing and writing music really changed when the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundation awarded him a coveted “Emerging Composers” grant in 2008.
“That was a really life-changing thing for me. Before that I’d been kind of doing (composition) in the way I’d been doing it in college. It allowed me to try different things and approaches.” One of the ideas that emerged was that Theis realized he “wanted to get away from having everything notated.”
He wanted the musicians to have more creative latitude in contributing to the sound of a piece; the sound would emerge out of playing and improvisation rather than from music written down on sheet music. It would be a more accessible way of approaching jazz, which has its cerebral side, and that was part of the reason he got the grant. The foundation wanted him to “connect with younger people. It wasn’t just, here’s a bunch of money to write some weird music and then disappear.”
“There’s a lot of jazz composition for big bands right now that sounds intellectual and overly structured at some point,” said Glasgo. “It’s kind of workmanlike and overly involved in the craft of composition. It’s a much different process than having music coming from what you’re thinking or playing.”
Theis laughed when asked about the inclusion of Summertime , which might be the most covered, most familiar standard of all time. It’s suffered from overexposure, and there are probably as many so-so or mediocre renditions as there are masterful versions, a trap of which Theis was aware.
“I was resistant at first. My aesthetic is not to do songs that have been done way too much,” he said. Theis would rather experiment with songs that people don’t know as well. The B-sides, not the A-sides, he said. But one of his jazz heroes is Gil Evans, the orchestrator who collaborated with Miles Davis on three of his masterpieces from the 1950s: Miles Ahead , Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain .
“Gil Evans was known as an arranger, but I think of him as a composer,” Theis said. “He would just rewrite music.”
So when the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble takes on Summertime on Saturday, they’ll be playing a version that takes it in different directions. “ Summertime is such a masterpiece of a song, it’s a challenge to me. I need to make it unique,” Theis said.
You can hear what he does with it Saturday evening.
Tickets cost $9-$10. They’re available through the Hopkins Center Box Office at 603-646-2422 or at https://hop.dartmouth.edu/Online/131026_bcje.
Listening to NPR one day, I happened on an interview of the Canadian DJ collective A Tribe Called Red, a trio of Ottawa DJs who are members of the Ojibway and Cayuga nations. They’ve gotten a lot of attention in the past few years as their music makes it onto end-of-year Best of lists, but they bring a political message about the survival and culture of North American indigenous peoples as well. I was transfixed by their combination of traditional First Nations vocals and drumming, and dance club syncopation, which their website calls “electric pow-wow.” I thought they had a great sound, and a great story, but what were the chances that I could actually hear them, or more to the point, dance to them in person? Well, they’re coming to Dartmouth College on Friday, Nov. 1, with two performances at Collis Common Ground at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Not to be missed.
Tickets are $20 for general admission, standing room with limited seating.
For information call the Hopkins Center box office, 603-646-2422 or go to hop.dartmouth.edu.
Also not to be missed is the great singer and songwriter Steve Earle, who’s chronicled in his music his battles with alcohol and drugs, his deep-rooted Southern culture and his unvarnished political views. He will be at the Lebanon Opera House at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1.
The Queen of Bluegrass Rhonda Vincent and her band The Rage will be taking the stage tomorrow evening at 7:30 at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph. Vincent has won seven consecutive female vocalist of the year awards from the International Blue Grass Music Association.
∎ Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction features two first-rate musicians this weekend. Jake Clemons plays tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. and the Paul Thorn Band is on stage Saturday evening at 7 p.m. If Clemons’ last name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s a nephew of the late, great Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen’s saxaphonist and lynchpin of the E Street Band. Clemons toured with Springsteen’s most recent tour, playing the sax. Thorn, who hails from Mississippi, comes from the rich vein of American narrative songwriting exemplified by John Prine and John Hiatt.
∎ The art of Mongolian Tuva throat singing will be on view Saturday evening at 7:30 at Alumni Hall in Haverhill. Alash, a trio of master musicians who’ve collaborated with banjo player Bela Fleck on an album, were introduced to American audiences by the Open World Leadership Program of the Library of Congress. The Washington Post wrote that their performances are “jaw-dropping.” The audience’s jaws, that is.
Iranian playwright Yasmina Reza first came to the attention of theater audiences with her play Art! but it was her next play God of Carnage that’s brought in audiences all over the world. Northern Stage puts on the provocative play in White River Junction with an Oct. 30 opening. Two well-to-do couples meet to discuss a bullying incident involving their sons, and what begins as a reasonable discussion degenerates quickly into acrimony, name-calling and the threat of violence. Also made into a film by Roman Polanski, the play has been staged in London, New York, Croatia, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Romania and the United Arab Emirates. Goes to show that while the rich may be different from you and me, their bad behavior strikes a universal chord with audiences. It’s directed by Northern Stage’s Catherine Doherty.
∎ What could be more beloved than The Wizard of Oz ? Pentangle in Woodstock is producing the stage adaptation of the movie musical tomorrow evening and Saturday night, and next weekend on Nov. 1, 2 and 3. All performances are at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre. Sure, the movie is pure magic, but listen closely to the incredibly sophisticated and witty songwriting of Harold Arlen. To wit: the Cowardly Lion’s If I Were King of the Forest . For tickets and information call 802-457-3981 or go to http://pentanglearts.org/category/events.
∎ It’s the last weekend to see Shaker Bridge Theatre’s crackling production of Terence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune in Enfield. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2:30.
Documentary film maker Bess O’Brien, who co-founded Kingdom County Productions in St. Johnsbury with her husband, film director Jay Craven, has focused her work on social issues that affect Vermont. Not the leef-peeping, covered bridge, cows-in-the-pasture Vermont, but a state that experiences the same kinds of ills as any other state. Her most recent documentary, The Hungry Heart, looks at the prevalence of opiate addiction in rural and urban communities within the state. Through affecting interviews with people who are or have been addicted, as well as their families, and the doctors and social workers who treat them, O’Brien traces the destructive influence of addiction on people’s lives.
The film will be screening twice in the Upper Valley. Its first showing is at 7 p.m. this evening at the Wilder Arts Center, and then at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27 at Norwich Town Hall. Tickets to both screenings are $12 for adults; $6 for people under 18. Tickets are sold at the door, not in advance. For more information, go to http://thehungryheartmovie.org.
Bar and Club Circuit
The Salt Hill pubs in Lebanon, Hanover and Newport are busy this weekend with local entertainment. Baldilocks and Sean Wyatt are playing Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, at Salt Hill in Lebanon: both sets begin at 9 p.m. Brooks Hubbard and Green Room perform in Hanover on Friday and Saturday nights respectively. Both sets begin at 9 p.m. And in Newport, Jim Hollis and Flew-Z are performing Friday and Saturday, respectively, at 9 p.m.
∎ Also in Hanover, the Canoe Club has a full slate of music through the weekend. Gillian Joy plays piano Friday, Tim Utt and Barbara Blaisdell perform Saturday evening and Randall Mullen tickles the ivories Sunday. All performances are from 7 to 10 p.m.
∎ Friday evening, just in time for almost Halloween, local favorite Frydaddy plays at Skunk Hollow Tavern at 9 p.m. And on Wednesday night the tavern hosts its annual Halloween party, with host Gregory Brown and open mic guests.
∎ Next Wednesday at the Flying Goose Brew Pub and Grille in New London, talented Boston singer and songwriter Tom Glynn takes the stage at 8 p.m. with the back-up band Second Season.
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Send Highlights notices to firstname.lastname@example.org.