Each month, the Boyer College of Music and Dance hosts Jazz @ the Underground, where students, professors and musicians can gather to jam.
Jazz isn’t clean. Jazz isn’t perfect. It doesn’t care what you’re wearing, how old you are or how your face distorts when the rhythm takes over your soul. Jazz doesn’t want sheet music, lyrics or a sold out stadium. It doesn’t need screaming fans or CD signings. Jazz is raw and unscripted. It’s chaotic and calming, thunderous, velvety and deep.
And while the genre is often overlooked by main stream teen-pop Beleibers, jazz is deeply rooted in American society as a symbol of social change and has influenced genres such as reggae and funk throughout the decades.
Philadelphia boasts a rich jazz history, as well, but the number of venues to soak up the sound is dwindling. After the popular lounge Zanzibar Blue closed its doors in 2007, and Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus followed suit last year, jazz enthusiasts have found themselves scouring out new dimly-lit lounges filled with saxophones and soulful strums. That’s where Jazz @ the Underground comes in.
Jazz @ the Underground is a monthly collective founded by Terell Stafford, the director of jazz studies in the Boyer College of Music and Dance. Students, faculty and professors gather in the Underground of the Student Center once a month to jam, discuss and entertain. After Ortlieb’s–a common watering hole for jazz enthusiasts in Northern Liberties–closed its doors, Stafford sought to create a similar venue for students on Main Campus, who were among Ortlieb’s most popular customers.
Boyer hosted its most recent Jazz @ the Underground on Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. The evening began with a master class, during which a trio played a set, then opened up the stage to the audience for questions and opportunities to play.
Craig Ebner, a jazz lecturer in Boyer, spoke to the audience about getting creative with their music, rather than sticking to the sheet music.
“Each time has it’s own character,” he said. “That’s the point, you want to be surprised by yourself.”
Jon Ceru, a freshman psychology and cognitive sciences major at Villanova University attended his first Jazz @ the Underground last week.
“It’s a cool venue, I wish Villanova had something like this,” Ceru said. “I wish Villanova had a music program, but then again that’s why I’m here.”
Ceru said he takes private jazz guitar classes with Ebner, and it was Ebner who encouraged Ceru to attend the Dec. 1 concert.
Ebner, who’s been teaching at Temple since 2003, said Dec. 1 was also his first experience at the Underground.
He said that when Stafford made an announcement about booking acts for Jazz @ the Underground, he thought it was going to be great for him and his trio, who he’s been playing with for the past year-and-a-half.
“I thought it was really great,” Ebner said. “This is a great venue, it totally looks like a club. Even the fact that it’s called the Underground sort of conjures up this artisitic experience.”
Ebner said aside from the performance, he also enjoyed the master class portion of the evening.
“A master class is more or less when the group that is going to perform, prior to the performance you play but also discuss concepts,” he said. “So other musicians can come out and more less ask questions or just hear what you’re talking about musically.”
During the master class, Ebner invited Miles Applebaum, a freshman musical performance major, to jam out on Ebner’s guitar. Applebaum and the rest of Ebner’s trio alternated with exciting trios, sans sheet music or verbal communication.
After, several more students came up to the stage with saxaphones or drum sticks to display their skill or to receive a hands-on lesson from their professors.
The last 45 minutes of the evening was dedicated to Ebner’s trio, which consisted of a guitarist, an organist and a drummer, to strum out their soulful tunes.
At the end of the performance, Ebner said the venue affords students a great opportunity to hone their talents as performers. He said that while many students get the opportunity to play regular gigs in the city, just as many don’t, and the Underground gives them that experience.
“They get to go up on stage and experience what it’s really like, with an audience, a stage and sound, and communicating with a sound person, so for people who may not have it, it will give them real-life experience going into the future.”
Sitting at a red-clothed round table as his band packed up their equipment, Ebner said jazz is his favorite musical genre, not just because he enjoys playing, but because it’s demanding.
“I think [jazz] asks a lot of the listener,” he said. “I think, particularly with today’s music, it’s instant gratification. You want to feel that surge of energy right away. You don’t want to have to think about it too much, and that’s fine, you know, it has it’s place, but I think jazz asks someone to really listen constructively and to ask themselves ‘why do I like this?’”
“Some people might say [jazz] is on the outs, but it’s actually not,” Ebner added. “It’s a form of music that’s surviving, and it’s still evolving.”
Musicians interested in performing at Jazz @ the Underground next semester should contact Stafford at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next Jazz @ the Underground will be held next semester, the date of which can be found on the university calendar.
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at email@example.com.