In the Saybrook Underbrook, guitarist and composer Shubh Saran brought warmth and wisdom to a cold Friday night.
“I was once thoroughly confused about what I wanted to do and what kind of music I wanted to make, but the answer is quite easy,” Saran said. “Just make music that you like, and music that you’d like to hear. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
The Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, or YUJC, hosted the New York artist as a part of their Underbrook Concert Series. Through this series, the YUJC brings in professional artists to engage the community with performances and masterclasses. The series programs three to four concerts each semester, all of which are free and open to the public.
“We like to explore how jazz interacts with other forms of music,” Mat Ferraro ’21, co-president of YUJC, said. “This show represents the intersection of jazz, neo-soul, rock, and obviously classical contemporary Indian music as well.”
Because Saran grew up in six different countries, various genres influence his music. Ferraro noted that Saran grew up listening to metal, pop-rock and punk, interesting influences to “juxtapose against a contemporary modern jazz landscape.” YUJC has never before hosted a jazz artist with comparable punk-rock roots.
Saran said incorporating these different sounds comes naturally to him — he simply infuses his music with what he likes. He draws inspiration from playing with and writing for other musicians. Saran said he is also driven by the desire to “add value” to the experiences of people around him through genuine and authentic compositions.
On Friday, Saran performed with six band members: Angelo Spampinato, Josh Bailey, Christian Li, Brian Plautz, Mark Minoogian and Jared Yee. He said that performing at Yale felt “incredible,” since the audience was “amazing.”
Sam Panner ’21, co-president of YUJC, said that YUJC looks for a “breadth” of musical range while programming artists for an upcoming season. They try to bring in both pure jazz, to appeal to their expected audience, as well as avant-garde jazz artists like Saran. Co-Programming Director Adin Ring ’22 said the group “knows that straight-up jazz is not for everyone and wanted to have something for everyone.”
Ring discovered Saran’s music upon his brother’s recommendation. As co-programming director, Ring always considers possible concert programs when engaging with new music. Since Saran was already touring with his band in the Northeast and releasing singles for his new album, “Becoming,” this semester proved an opportune time to invite him to campus.
Ferraro noted that the “electronic, avant-garde setup” of Saran’s performance differed from the acoustic performances YUJC often hosts. The performance featured two drummers, instead of one, and tech elements such as a pedalboard and keyboard sounds. Panner added that they had “never had a sound like this ever before.”
“Sometimes, more modern jazz groups sound pretty similar in terms of their style,” Panner said. “This was different, partly because of the instrumentation, but also how Shubh is taking different explorations in his music — it’s really compelling and feels very truthful.”
Panner said YUJC tries to host up-and-coming artists to display new talent. Ferraro added that, since YUJC is student-run, all of its members are young. As a result, they use streaming platforms to hear various genres of music and often stumble upon artists like Saran, whose explorative music does not fall within the boundaries of conventional jazz.
Yet Panner noted that the team was worried about the audience’s reception. Since YUJC’s audiences generally expect conventional jazz, he said that members considered including a noise advisory for the performance.
But audience reactions were largely positive. David Wood GRD ’25 said it felt “fantastic” to be in the same room as the group.
“It was super exciting and really fun to watch [the members] pass things around and interact with each other,” Wood said. “It’s not really music I’ve heard before — it felt really intellectual, but in the service of feeling.”
Postdoctoral scholar Gaurav Singh said he enjoyed the band’s fusion of jazz, Indian classical and Bollywood influences. He discerned flute sounds and the beats of Bhangra — a traditional Indian dance — during the performance.
Panner said that YUJC aims to create “a space for the jazz community to occupy” on campus. Yale does not have a jazz program, nor does it offer jazz lessons for credit.
While the Yale Jazz Initiative — an audition-based jazz coaching program directed by School of Music professor Thomas C. Duffy — is a “good first step,” Panner said a lot more needs to be done to increase the presence of jazz at Yale.
Alongside the Underbrook series, YUJC organizes student shows, monthly jam sessions and a festival each spring.
“We just feel like there is a robust jazz community here and we want to give it expression and a place to live and grow,” Panner said.
This year’s YUJC Jazz Festival will be held during mid-April.
Freya Savla | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 20: A previous version of this article referred to Sam Panner as “Penner” in several places.