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Jazz between generations: Fountain School students perform with renowned Canadian musician

- April 6, 2017

Michael Kaeshammer (provided photo)
Michael Kaeshammer (provided photo)

What could be more exciting for a young music student than the opportunity to perform with an internationally acclaimed musician?

The Dalhousie Jazz Ensemble will get just such an opportunity when they perform next Monday night with Michael Kaeshammer, the renowned Canadian singer, pianist, composer and arranger — a list to which Dal Jazz Ensemble director Chris Mitchell adds “showman.”

Kaeshammer’s music is rooted in a style of music called boogie-woogie. As Prof. Mitchell explains, boogie-woogie is an early form of jazz music and dates back to the early 20th century. Characterized by a highly virtuosic style of piano playing, boogie-woogie provided the foundations for rock-an-roll with its heavy left-hand bass lines and forceful shuffle rhythms. “It often sounds like there’s more than one piano playing”, says Prof. Mitchell — but with its ties to New Orleans, this virtuosity sounds less like Liszt and more like Mardi Gras.

But it’s a bit of a “dying breed,” says Prof. Mitchell.

“There are not a lot of pianists out there who are nearly as accomplished as Michael Kaeshammer is [in this style],” he says. Yet Kaeshammer is also working to keep the style moving forward. “He’s taking that genre, as jazz musicians tend to do, they’ll take various styles of music and cross over to newer styles of music … All the while, he keeps in the tradition of New Orleans music”.

A unique opportunity


His collaboration with the Dalhousie Jazz Ensemble is a novel one.

“He’s never done anything like this on the student level,” says Prof. Mitchell, “but he’s very excited to be coming and participating, and sharing his music with the students. It’s an incredible opportunity for the students.”

Not only do the students get to perform with a jazz superstar, but, for many of them, it will be their first real taste of being a professional musician. Just like the pros, they will have only two rehearsals with Kaeshammer before they hit the Cohn stage on Monday, April 10.

Being performance-ready with minimal rehearsal is a requisite for professional musicians, who may not even get see their parts before the first rehearsal, and Kaeshammer is no exception. Although the program is drawn entirely from Kaeshammer’s existing repertoire, the first rehearsal will mark the first time he’s ever heard these particular arrangements, written by Prof. Mitchell himself.

This concert marks another major first for Kaeshammer: for the first time in his career, he is playing with a big band. The big band is to jazz what the orchestra is to classical music — but instead of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion, however, the big band has trombones, trumpets, saxophones and a rhythm section (drums, bass, piano, and guitar). The standard large jazz ensemble, it’s the kind of band that Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman led, and that backed up crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

In a way, it’s difficult to say who will benefit most from this collaboration. Prof. Mitchell characterizes it well, saying, “the student musicians are going to be able to follow Michael through his journey of putting this show together, and vice versa”.

Rhapsody in Blues & Boogie takes place in the Dalhousie Arts Centre’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Monday, April 10 at 7:30. Tickets are $15/10 from the Arts Centre Box Office: 902-494-3020 or dal.ca/artscentre

Kaeshammer will also host a free, interactive workshop on performance called Unleashing Your Original Voice on Sunday, April 9, from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Arts Centre's Sir James Dunn Theatre.


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