Jazz concert connects with the community and highlights faculty

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Jonathan Richards at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 21, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

The music department at Occidental hosted a jazz faculty recital to share new and original music on Oct. 21. The jazz concert was a collaborative effort by professor Jonathan Richards and new professors Steven Gregory, Cathlene Pineda, Jay Jennings and Jamey Tate.

Richards is the Jazz Ensemble group director at Occidental. As a professional bassist, Richards said he works in studio and orchestral recording and collaborates with well-known artists to record albums and play jazz.

After talking with Chris Kim, the Choi Family director of instrumental music and the conductor of the Occidental Symphony Orchestra, Richards said he began to formulate the idea of having a faculty concert.

“We want to highlight our new arrivals, along with the other great teachers in our department,” Richards said. “It’s a very collaborative concert.”

Richards said that before the performance, the group got together for one 45-minute rehearsal. According to Richards, each faculty member has a lot of professional experience working with other musicians under short time constraints. He said the goal of the concert was to get together in a laid-back setting.

“We wanted everyone to contribute what they wanted,” Richards said. “We didn’t want to put many demands on what they played.”

Richards said the faculty members performing brought their own written work, or ideas of work that they wanted to play and share for the concert. The songs played included “Tell Me What You Feel” from Gregory, “The Night Rises” from Richards and “Indy 250” by Jennings.

Richards said he strives to facilitate connection between student musicians and other members of the Occidental community. According to Richards, along with the faculty concert, he has supported students in organizing weekly concerts outside of the Green Bean.

“A lot of our music students are making great strides in getting involved here on campus,” Richards said. “The faculty concert is a great way to connect with the community and introduce everyone.”

Gregory teaches rock guitar, and is in his first semester teaching at Occidental. Gregory said he has been a musician nearly his whole life, first taking piano lessons as a young child and then switching to guitar as he got older. Gregory has taught private lessons throughout his career, and said he has toured with musicians such as Ray Charles.

Steven Gregory, guitar, performs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 21, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

“We got together on the Monday before the concert and each brought to the rehearsal a piece of music we’ve written,” Gregory said.

According to Gregory, working as a musician for so many years helped him practice not only collaborating on impromptu concerts, but also gaining confidence in himself as an artist.

“When I got into college, and even after college, I was really trying to be Pat Metheny,” Gregory said. “I really liked his style, and would write songs in his style.”

However, after getting a job with a singer and developing his own creative music style, Gregory’s mindset changed — he realized he could only ever be himself in his work, he said. Gregory said that developing confidence and the ability to collaborate is important for concerts like the faculty recital.

“You have to pay attention to where the other musicians are coming from and relate to them musically,” Gregory said. “There will be a large element of improvisation with this concert, it’s jazz oriented and that’s what it’s all about, even though there is a basic structure we need to follow.”

Jennings is a new trumpet instructor at Occidental, and said he has recorded and played professionally as a musician for years. According to Jennings, getting the chance to work at Occidental is nice because he can combine teaching music with continuing his own endeavors. The faculty recital was his first real introduction to his colleagues, he said.

Jay Jennings, trumpet, performs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 21, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

“The concert was a nice opportunity to play with other people,” Jennings said. “I feel like I know all of my colleagues a little bit better now after playing in a concert with them.”

The piece Jennings contributed, “Indy 250,” will be on an album he is releasing next year under the same name, he said. Though, according to Jennings, the instrumentation of his music will sound different on the album than it did at the faculty recital.

“The cool thing about music is that you can play the same piece of music twice, but if you get different personnel on that work it will change drastically,” Jennings said.

Jennings teaches a wide range of students at Occidental, instructing both beginning and more experienced students, he said. Jennings said that as his students advance, he teaches harmonic improvisations in music that he has learned over the years.

Jennings said the format of playing with many different people in the faculty recital was fun because playing new music with new people is exciting.

“A major goal for a lot of musicians is to be able to meet up unrehearsed and improvise,” Jennings said.

Jazz Ensemble has a concert coming up Dec. 3.

Contact Olivia Correia at ocorreia@oxy.edu.