‘Space funk’ theme sets mood for BC ensemble

Katherine J. White
April 25, 2007
Filed under Campus

A space alien’s music was played at Bakersfield College’s Indoor Theater on April 21 during BC’s annual “Swing in Spring” jazz event.
BC music professor and Jazz Ensemble Director Kris Tiner said that this concert focused on composers not usually performed and who were influential as innovators and leaders of small-group jazz, such as Sun Ra (aka Herman “Sonny” Blount) who believed he was a space alien.
Other jazzmen featured were Theolonius Monk, Benny Golson, Charles Mingus and Woody Shaw, as well as the more well-known Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock.
Two of Sun Ra’s compositions, “Kohoutek Theme” and “Moon Dance,” were performed. According to Tiner, Sun Ra had an extensive jazz history, beginning with Duke Ellington-influenced ’40s swing. However, at some point in his career, he decided he wanted to do more experimental jazz.
Sun Ra eventually claimed to be from the planet Saturn, and that he was from a race of angels sent to Earth to teach humans about music. Sun Ra even went so far as to dress his fellow band members as well as himself in spacemen outfits for their performances. Many people began to see him as psychotic, Tiner said.
“Sun Ra ventured off into his own playing; it’s called ‘space funk,'” said ensemble member and alto saxophonist Elvis Bates, 18, who is also a BC mechanics engineering student. Bates said that Sun Ra’s professional name is a play off of both the nickname “Sonny” and the name for the Egyptian Sun-god Amon Ra.
To create a balance, Tiner said, jazzman Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” composition was played. According to Tiner, Golson emerged in the late 1950s, and his style is smooth and relaxed and not particularly experimental. In a small cameo, Golson played “Whisper Not” on his saxophone in Tom Hanks’ film “The Terminal.”
Ensemble member and percussion player Erick Recher said that there was a variety of jazz and jazz instruments played: African, Cuban, Contemporary, etc. Recher feels that the different jazz forms are vividly infused with the cultures and times each form hails from. Recher, 24, is a BC music major and plays bass guitar and piano as well as drums.
Before beginning the monotonous brass traffic noise of the first selection, Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” Tiner commanded the band to warm up with a couple of scales. He then commanded the band to pause, and then he addressed the audience.
“Thank you for coming,” Tiner said. “We do more than this,” he added. The audience chuckled.
After playing “Boogie Stop Shuffle” and Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Tiner and the band reset the stage to play the combo tune rendered “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock. The special set up featured the furtive electric keyboard playing of member Jordan Herbst as well as three saxophonists, one trombonist and Tiner, himself, on trumpet. Herbst went back to the piano for the combo tune, “Blues Minor” by John Coltrane.
“Jordan plays the hell out of the piano,” Tiner remarked at the end of “Blues Minor.”
Tiner also noted conga player, Stephanie Enoch, whose conga playing was a prominent feature in the renditions of Sun Ra’s “Kohoutek Theme” and “Moon Dance,” both arranged by Kris Tiner.
Enoch, 19, and a BC communications major, describes a lot of the night’s selections as “Hot Jazz” with the exception of Golson’s “Smooth Jazz” number, “Whisper Not.” Tiner noted tenor saxophonist James Russell who played the maraca-like West African instrument, the axatse, for the Sun Ra numbers. Russell played a sax solo for the Theolonius Monk number, “Ruby, My Dear.”
The evening was finished with the Woody Shaw number, “Rosewood,” which was arranged by Onaje Allan Gumbs.
“Just in case you wanted to know what jazz was like in 1977 when I was born, here’s Woody Shaw’s ‘Rosewood,'” Tiner said. The audience groaned a little bit.
“The music was wonderful; it was really great,” remarked Megan Sandoval, 15, an alto sax player, and a Frontier High School student who is looking forward to playing soon in the BC Jazz Ensemble.

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