New York–based saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and his jazz quartet played at the Saybrook Underbrook on Friday, marking the opening of the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective’s new concert series.
The quartet — rounded out by Steven Feifke on piano, Tamir Shmerling on bass and Bryan Carter on drum — played an eight-song set that included both jazz standards, such as “The Nearness of You” and “Donna Lee,” and originals by Lefkowitz-Brown, including “Onward” and “With Bated Breath.” The four musicians represent a new generation of jazz: young, talented, conservatory-trained recording artists.
Before the hour-long performance, Lefkowitz-Brown led a master class with four undergraduate jazz players. Since the University lacks a formal program for jazz, the collective is trying to fill in the gap with events like Friday’s class and concert, said Nicholas Serrambana ’20, the organization’s president.
“We try not only to bring in strong performers, to give people the opportunity to see live music,” but also to encourage students to “physically interact with [professional musicians], to get to know them, to form bonds with them,” said the collective’s student outreach coordinator, Hersh Gupta ’20.
For the occasion, a folding screen was propped up to create a backstage area, and three floral rugs were arranged in a semicircle to mark off the seating from the stage. Near the entrance, the members of the collective topped a folding table with a spread of dining hall tea packets and Pim’s biscuits, transforming the Underbrook into a jazz hall-meets-off-campus living room.
Last year, Lefkowitz-Brown performed at the collective’s 2017 festival series as a sideman. This year, he reached out to the collective, interested in returning to Yale with his own band. The four band members have been longtime collaborators, adding to the band’s energy, Fiefke said.
“It makes the music have an open vibe,” Fiefke said. “Making music at all is really fun, especially when you get to do it with your best friends.”
Fiefke, Carter and Lefkowtiz-Brown have been playing together since high school after meeting at a summer music program. Shmerling, who is from Ashkelon, Israel, joined the quartet later after all four musicians had moved to New York.
The quartet draws inspiration from a range of artists, including John Coltraine and Herby Hancock, Lefkowitz-Brown said.
Lefkowitz-Brown stands out in his generation due to his deep roots in the jazz tradition, Gupta said. Although his repertoire and arrangements push boundaries, Gupta said, any listener can tell he spends a lot of time studying and practicing the traditional styles of jazz music.
It is this dynamic — younger musicians who draw inspiration and diverge from the classics — that the collective’s organizers had in mind when designing the concert program. The collective wants to encourage not only musical practice but also scholarship in the form of serious academic engagement with jazz-, Serrambana said.
Later this semester, the collective will host Nicholas Payton, a trumpet player, writer and lecturer. Serrambana hopes the visit will provide an opportunity for students to critically engage with the relationship among jazz, politics and race.
“[Payton] has strong feelings about a sort of divide between the heritage of the music in African-American communities and what now is the reality of the people who are performing this music or getting paid to play this music, coming from an institution experience of the music,” Serrambana said. “He doesn’t put it this way, but one way that I usually explain it is [that] it’s almost become athletic.”
The Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective has tentatively scheduled its annual jazz festival for April 14 to 21.
Amy Xu | firstname.lastname@example.org