UNC faculty jazz trio receive a standing ovation

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Stephen Anderson, Jazz professor at UNC, plays the piano for the Faculty Jazz Trio. Photo taken by Steven Bromberg and courtesy of Stephen Anderson.

With a soft blue light shining over them, the UNC Faculty Jazz Trio played some of the genre’s greatest hits, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd last Thursday night in Hill Hall. 

The Trio includes pianist Stephen Anderson, bassist Jason Foureman and drummer Dan Davis, all of whom are UNC music professors. Anderson initiated the formation of the trio in 2010.

Foureman, a professor of jazz bass, said he has always loved the challenge of playing in the group. 

“You’ve got to be on your toes to play with both of those guys," Foureman said. "But they’re both personally some of my favorite people and, musically, some of my favorite people I’ve come across."

The Trio performs for Anderson’s MUSC 145 class every fall at the start of the semester, but the concert is open to the public. Davis, a professor of jazz drumset and jazz history, said he thinks watching live jazz benefits students in the class. 

“I think us playing early on is a really good opportunity for students to kind of see, first of all, faculty members playing the music and, second of all, just to get a little taste of what the music is about," he said. "A lot of students aren’t exposed to this kind of music."

Anderson, professor of composition and jazz studies, said jazz instrumentalists can improvise and change the music throughout the performance. The freedom and communication between musicians is what made him fall in love with the genre. 

“How you play it, where you take it — if you play it loud, or very busily, or very spacey — all that is up to the interpretation of the group in the moment,” he said. “On a great night, you can take the music to the moon and play something that’s never been played before and will never be played the exact same way ever again.” 

The freedom attracted Davis to jazz as well, especially because it’s more difficult for drummers to be spontaneous with music in other genres. 

“You really get to be very creative and do things on the spot, and it’s different night after night,” Davis said. “In some other kinds of music, as a drummer, you have to do more role-playing, like things have to be a certain way — the same every time. But with jazz it can be different, you can really be yourself.” 

Anderson said the popular music culture in the U.S. is geared toward the singers. This prevents genres that include many instrumental songs, like jazz, from existing in the mainstream music scene. 

Anderson is determined to keep spreading his love for jazz, whether it’s through teaching or performing. 

“We do want audiences to know about it and to love it, and I’m personally sad that more people don’t know about it,” Anderson said. “That’s why I’m so passionate about the [jazz] history classes that I teach, because I see myself as an evangelist for the cause.” 

Foureman said he knows jazz is not mainstream, but he wants students to know musicians of the genre still exist. 

“So often I feel like [it's] a sentinel of a way of life that’s kind of maybe been left behind or forgotten about, but it’s still here,” Foureman said. “We’re still swinging, and we’re keeping the tradition alive and trying to move it along harmonically and progressively.”

Under the name "Stephen Anderson Trio," the group will perform this month at the Lee Hansley Art Gallery in Raleigh and Carolina Meadows in Chapel Hill.

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