With his traveling Jazz 101 shows, Jesse Lynch aims for a combination of improvisation, education and good old fashioned nostalgia.
Pianist Lynch, along with upright bass player Joe Michaels and drummer Matt Smallcomb, made a 2009 record called “Intuition,” a compilation of original works that spun off into a traveling, multimedia show that takes audiences through the evolution of one of America’s most unique art forms.
“A few years ago, Joe and I developed an idea for the Jazz 101 show, to have an evolution of jazz show where we had a multimedia aspect, which would give the audience another dimension of the experience with historical photos and film,” Lynch said. “It gives the audience a sense of the times in which jazz was developed, then we would illustrate through music the times. So the show has a nostalgic element as well as an educational one.”
While the “nostalgia” pillar of Jazz 101 is central to the show, it’s as much about helping to contextualize in a personal way some of the show’s music as it is giving the listener the warm and fuzzies.
“I think it’s one of the most powerful aspects of the show. It allows each person to have their own unique experience of connecting with the times and the music. So even if something is new for them, it’s educational,” Lynch said. “I love the nostalgic element and giving people a warm feeling about the past and the things they love, but also (want to communicate) a sense of importance of the culture that gave birth both to the music that they love, and I love, and also of the events in their lives. I want to communicate a sense of the richness of the evolution of jazz, which is really a national treasure, something that was developed uniquely in America from elements across the world.”
Lynch has been at the ivories since he was about six years old when his parents first brought a piano into the house.
“They say I was always fascinated with it. I would listen to records and try to figure them out on the piano. I was working on Beethoven sonatas when I was about seven. It was always a fun game for me, and it sort of took the place of making elaborate wars with my toys in my bedroom,” he said.
Unlike many piano students, however, Lynch was encouraged to learn by ear, a process that to him felt far more intuitive than reading sheet music.
“I think ultimately music is a process that happens through the ear and through an emotional response. It is a very direct process. And when you’re learning to play by ear you have a direct interface and you’re not as distracted,” Lynch said. “I think, sometimes, when you have a sheet of music, and bleepity blorbs all over the place that is a great tool but it can also be a distraction from what’s happening and the most important thing, which is the music.”
Improvisation is always a key component of any jazz player worth their salt and that was certainly a draw at first. But Lynch said he likes experimenting with both improvised material and music with more of a strong backbone to it.
“I think that might have been one of the early pulls to playing jazz. Although, at this point in my life I’m very attracted to structure. I’m not afraid of structure and some of my favorite pieces have a mix of very complex, rich structure and the possibility of improvising through it,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see improvisation as the abandonment of structure, but simply allowing one’s self to work with it in real time.”
The real allure of jazz came when he realized he could appropriate styles and musical knowledge from a variety of sources and not just other jazz musicians to inform his approach to the genre.
“When I was very young, when I just went to the instrument and trying to figure things out, I was developing a bit of an improvisational relationship to music just as the sheer fun of it. Then, later on, I had a mentor who was my piano teacher but also a friend and he would play all these amazing records for me and we’d stay up at night listening to John Coltrane,” Lynch said. He introduced me to a whole variety of really great music, from Coltrane to Miles Davis to Nirvana and Sonic Youth and all these things that you don’t necessarily hear in the same sentence all the time. Just stuff that had great musicianship, but all of which had that element of improvisation to it, which was always fascinating to me. I feel like, in a way, I came into jazz through the back door.”
Jazz 101 will take the stage at Caldwell Auditorium in Tyler at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday as part of the Live On Stage season presented by Tyler Community Concert Association. Admission is $30 per person, or a pass granting access to this and the remaining two shows of the season can be purchased for $70.
For additional information or tickets, call 903-592-6266 or visitwww.tcca.biz .