Coping with crisisThe UNC Music Department has successfully put on their first major live performance so far this semester, thanks to the UNC jazz faculty. Streamed live for free on Youtube, the concert featured five of the music department’s professors together in Hill Hall. (Baron Tymas, Artist in Residence from NCCU, unfortunately was not able to perform.) More specifically, four were in the main auditorium of Hill Hall – saxophonist Rahsaan Barber played from Hill Hall 103, since you can’t wear a mask and play the saxophone at the same time. Pianist Stephen Anderson, bassist Jason Foureman, percussionist Juan Alamo, and drummer Dan Davis were together, spaced apart, on stage.

This was one of the most memorable things about the whole concert – hearing the whole ensemble, the fact that one member was not actually in the room was practically unnoticeable. Onstage, Barber was shown on a large screen (but the live stream camera cut to him in room 103 often, mostly during saxophone solos), and of course all were wearing headphones. This seamless setup was accomplished by production manager Jesse Moorefield and media technician Jay Harper, who installed the necessary technology over the summer and also managed everything during the performance. It is really wonderful to imagine the possibilities of live performance with this creative setup. The musicians, of course, were seamless as well, communicating despite the distance and masks.

The performance livestream gained a reasonably large virtual crowd as the concert went on – from all over North Carolina and even a few other countries, too. The live chat on the Youtube stream turned out to be an unexpected way to have a connection with other concertgoers which is often missing when viewing a virtual performance. Viewers typed their applause and compliments, and friends and collaborators reconnected – hopefully the musicians can read the chat afterwards!

Barber is the UNC Department of Music’s most recent faculty addition, hailing (most recently) from Nashville. Several pieces on the program were his compositions, including the lovely, relaxing “Manhattan Grace.” Inspired by the peace and serenity Barber found at the Manhattan Grace Tabernacle in New York City, the music is slow but intricate, with nuanced phrases in the saxophone that dwindle away organically. “Brooklyn en la casa,” a danceable tune, began with Foureman’s bass solo – wandering at first, sometimes playing two parts at once, then jumping into the cha-cha-esque groove. Alamo’s amazing solo on the congas surely had audience members clapping from their couch (at least, I was).

The penultimate piece, “Sin Palabras,” was dedicated to bassist Jeffry Eckels, a close friend and collaborator of the entire Department of Music and especially Anderson, who wrote this tune a week after Eckels’ passing on July 3, 2020. When Anderson introduced his composition, he added, “I don’t know how people who are not musicians cope with life challenges” – a timely statement no doubt felt by other musicians in the audience. This passionate music flowed into Foureman’s nostalgic “Through and Through.”

The concert closed with “Jubilee” by Barber, who originally wrote it as a young composer (it’s the first track on “Everyday Magic,” his band’s debut album). This piece brought new life to the stage with its exuberant, driving beat, and undoubtedly ended the performance by putting a smile on viewers’ faces.

If you can’t wait to hear more from UNC’s jazz faculty, Foureman and Anderson have recently released an album, DUO. Their release party will be livestreamed from the Durham Jazz Workshop at 7:00pm on Saturday, October 24th.

To find out more about the virtual concerts going on at UNC, go here. Donate and join Friends of Music here.