Though the band name, Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts, is unconventional (this journalist was certainly perplexed that he was covering a craft show), it unquestionably describes this group: both the name and the group are quirky and longwinded and contain Matt Wilson.
The quartet, composed of its namesake on drums, Terell Stafford (trumpet), Gary Versace (piano and organ) and Dennis Irwin (bass), held an informal Q&A session followed by an outstanding concert last Thursday.
The information session was held in the Gamble Room of the Rush Rhees Library, and though I felt as if a treasure map was necessary to locate the venue, a crowd of people joined me to delve into the minds of these jazz greats.
Admittedly, I am not a jazz aficionado. When I think about jazz the first picture that pops into my mind is a 1990’s hipster who plays jazz as background music to his discussion of Kafka with his equally pretentious psuedointellectual friends while they all sip some type of foamy and overpriced latte. However, I and the packed Q&A crowd were wonderfully surprised to find that Arts and Crafts were much more about substance than style (though they had plenty of the latter) – more about communication than obfuscation.
Though they did say a few things that made me scoff, such as that music can “change lives” by “sharing moments between performers and audience,” the group, as they would say, tried to demystify jazz by including those in the room.
In this discussion, the group revealed that if the general public would study jazz the way they do other genres work, they would be much more appreciative. Stafford went on to comment that the “study of jazz can be very daunting” but, as Wilson stated, “musical taste is much like food, trying new flavors can change views.” According to the group, preparation is key for enjoyment, and the conversation between the students there and the Arts and Crafts was a perfect forum for such a discussion.
After an hour break, the action moved from the library to Wilson Commons’s fourth floor May Room. The attendance at the actual concert itself far outstripped both the number of chairs provided (even after a second round was brought in) and my estimation of the number of jazz fans at UR.
Having never been to a jazz concert, I was surprised at the set up. The stage was remarkably close to the audience, devoid of the barricades and security that normally mar my view at less personal venues.
As the performance kicked off 20 minutes late to accommodate the flood of late-comers, I was shocked at the reaction of the crowd. It was a mixture of beatnikesque head bobbing and foot tapping sprinkled with the traditional hollers of a college audience. Instead of the simple, random notes that I had become accustomed to jazz being, the four artists worked together to create truly interesting music.
The connection between the band members, the interplay of improvisation and tried methods and the shear pleasure evident in the group, coupled with the proximity of the show produced a unique and interesting two-hour show that captivated the audience.
The diversity of sounds that the group produced, with varying instrumentation and arrangement, lifted the normal monotony I associate with jazz and enlivened the audience with a combination of solos and astonishing group work. Even for a casual fan like me it was both an enlightening and excellent performance.
Burnett is a member of the class of 2010.