The Bakersfield College Jazz Ensemble performed songs from Sun Ra on Nov. 1 in the Fireside Room. The late Sun Ra was a composer, self-proclaimed extra-terrestrial, and an innovator. Ra’s music has influenced musicians beyond the jazz realm and his own compositions broke boundaries by implementing electronic keyboards and space-like sounds into his music.
The ensemble played to a packed audience, which consisted of students and BC staff, such as astronomy professor Nick Strobel and history professor Randy Beeman, who is also a booster and organizer for the Friends of BC Jazz organization.
Jazz director Kris Tiner spoke on his reasoning for choosing music of Sun Ra, and how it impacted his students and the audience.
“I’m a big fan, and I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a long time,” said Tiner. “I have been transcribing and arranging these tunes over the years, and we have performed a couple of them at previous BC Jazz concerts.
“It just seemed like we had the right mix of people and instruments to make it work this semester, so we went for it.”
Sun Ra’s music contains traditional jazz instruments, such as the upright bass, guitar, trumpets, piano and percussion, but on his more experimental tunes, the addition of space-like sounds were created by jazz student Jordan Aguirre, with the use of a Fender Rhodes piano, delay pedals, and a Roland SP404 sampler.
“We began the semester looking at music from Ra’s early period, which is characteristically quirky but not too out of the ordinary for a traditional jazz ensemble,” said Tiner.
“As we got progressively into some of his later music, and started to really deal with the more open aspects of it, like improvising transitions between tunes, extended solos, creating spontaneous textures and backgrounds and creating electronic effects.
“I think a lot of that was new to many of them, but they were enthusiastic and we had a ball with the material.”
With such an experimental performance, it was hard to predict what the audience response would be, but by seeing the eyes of the audience pop up as the ensemble chanted along to “Space is the place,” they seemed intrigued and entertained.
“I knew some of the music would be challenging for people who were not already fans, but I think that everyone was able to see how much fun it all was, and the students did a fantastic job with these tunes,” said Tiner. “Their enthusiasm and dedication certainly came across.”
The concert took place in the Fireside Room due to the SAM building being closed for renovation, but the small-room setting created atmosphere for the audience sitting only a few feet from the band.
“I’ve always liked [the Fireside Room] because you can have an intimate, jazz-club-like feel and still get a decent-sounding performance,” said Tiner.
With Tiner’s creative approach to school jazz concerts, his newly established Friends of BC Jazz organization, and his own out of school activities of running a jazz record label and bringing jazz musicians to perform at places like the Metro galleries, there is no doubt Tiner is making big changes to the Bakersfield arts scene.
Tiner credits his students for impacting this new movement within the local arts scene.
“I’ve been here since 2004 and I’ve been pleased to see many, many musicians come through this program and go on to further their music education and create their own impact, within not only the jazz community, but our local culture in general,” said Tiner. “Versatility and flexibility are what it’s all about for the twenty-first century artist, so I try to prepare students for that by opening up as many opportunities as possible.”