By Izzy Yellen
If the jazz faculty at Lawrence University can be viewed as a musical collective, then Mark José Dane (MJD) is yet another incredible group that branched off from this diverse group. The trio—bassist and Associate Professor of Music Mark Urness, saxophonist and Assistant Professor of Music José Encarnación, and drummer and Professor of Music Dane Richeson—is quite similar to the Jazz Faculty Quartet, but lacks the unique voice of pianist and Lecturer of Music Bill Carrothers. This did not stop the trio from creating a new voice together, especially when joined by percussionist Jamey Haddad.
Seeing any incarnation of the jazz faculty perform is always a treat, and to see them play off-campus was a whole new experience. Taking place in Becket’s, a bar and restaurant in Oshkosh, the concert gave off different vibes than its usual setting. To all the spectators but me and a few fellow students, this trio did not consist of professors. It also was fine to talk over their creativity, as they were performing background music. To me, they still were teachers and it was difficult to focus on anything but them.
Still, in this setting, things felt different. When looking around, I saw many people turned away from the band, loudly and drunkenly talking to their company. This was not viewed as disrespectful, though, due to the setting. Seeing how this musical culmination of ideas and feelings was treated outside of the Conservatory was not surprising, yet still strange to observe, leaving me wanting to turn to the parties of people and exclaim to them, “Do you hear what is playing? Listen to this!”
After all, they were playing the same level of music as they usually play. This was not easy listening music lacking in substance; this was dynamic, groovy, dissonant, free. However, its main purpose was to create a backdrop for a bar and restaurant. At least that is what I gathered walking in and hearing them already in the middle of a tune.
When the three of them saw a group of several jazz students enter, it was as if a new purpose arose. They were now also playing for people who look up to them as mentors, musicians and friends.
No matter where they were in the piece, if one of them looked up, there we were, eagerly awaiting the next moment, relishing the present one. I do not know how the others felt, but I felt like a fanboy. However, after talking to Encarnación during their break and after their two sets, I felt completely different.
Two things he said stuck out to me and the rest of the group. After about two and a half hours of dense but rewarding music, a woman in the audience congratulated and thanked him while we were all conversing. He thanked her quickly and with almost no hesitation, introduced us as his students, thanking us for what we teach him.
It was a surreal experience—here we were, five non-professional musicians still in awe at the concert we just witnessed, being thanked in front of a random woman for what we do. Never would I have expected that humbleness, honesty and appreciativeness following a performance.
Encarnación shared with us a second sentiment. Since Fred Sturm’s passing, he has had a lot on his plate, picking up a lot of the responsibility Sturm covered. Working long days and nights, Encarnación naturally got a bit stressed, but told our friend that seeing us there made all that stress and feelings of loss reside, easing his soul.
To be honest, I almost did not go to the concert that night. I have seen them all perform several times; I would see them perform later; it was a far drive and I was tired. I decided to go on a whim and am so glad I did. I not only learned a lot musically and enjoyed myself, but I witnessed a rare occurrence—what it means to be a beautiful human being.
The way this concert experience impacted me was nearly indescribable and these words here do not even do it justice. Knowing I am learning from people like this warms my heart. Yes, they are fantastic musicians—I hear that in the Conservatory a whole lot. They are also fantastic people, and having the privilege to work with them is teaching me much more than music.
I love to critique and review the music of the concerts I attend, but sometimes that just does not feel right. This was one of those moments. It is almost easier to just analyze and share opinions on the music, because it can be hard to be so open about how it makes you feel, rather than why it sounds interesting or what you like about it.
While I barely talked about the music in this column, I feel as though this is a near-accurate representation and documentation of how this performance affected me. Just like Encarnación’s words and MJD’s music, this column comes straight from the heart.