‘Off the hook’: Concordia musicians jazz it up

The origin of the term ‘jazz’ comes out of the better brothels of late nineteenth century New Orleans, which provided music, dancing, as well as sex. Although jazz, one of the most respected musical forms of the twentieth century, has lost its depraved connotations, it’s still ironic that a term which inspired slang such as “jism” has a whole department devoted to its practice at major universities, including our own Concordia. Not that anyone is complaining. Our university’s small jazz studies program produces a large number of talented players. Some of the finest can be heard jamming every Wednesday night, free of charge, at Concordia’s student bar, the Bonkif.

Improvisational jazz nights have been going on for several years at Concordia, but audience attendance has been low until now. Last week’s full house was typical for the recently popular event. On a break from his set playing guitar, fourth year jazz studies student Alexander Formosa explains, “I’ve been coming to jazz sessions for four years and for some reason they sucked. I remember coming here and there would be, like, three people in the bar and they were all musicians. But every Wednesday since the beginning of school it’s been off the hook. Usually it’s mania.”

The event’s organizer and fourth year jazz studies student Marcel Anicic agreed that in past turnout was low, so he set off to attract crowds. To try and please a large audience, he says, “We try to have as much variety as possible to satisfy all types of tastes, while staying within the jazz medium.” Yet the large numbers of people that have been filling the Bonkif surprises even him.

The increased interest is partly due to the Bonkif’s transformation from a dirty hole in the wall to the present’s comfortable venue with stylish student artworks which range from the vibrant, colourful and abstract to the dark, subdued, and figurative that complements the variety of jazz being played.

Boreal being served at $9.50 a pitcher by attractive bartenders also keeps the crowds coming.

Formosa, who has been playing guitar for nearly a decade, says that the jam sessions at Bonkif have been some of the best of his career. “It’s a good environment. A lot of time in jazz jam sessions there’s a lot of ego going on, too much testosterone, like a lot of dudes lifting weights, but here it’s really open and we all got different styles.”

What also makes Jazz Nights at Bonkif impressive is the sheer number of talented musicians performing on the same stage. Last week, for example, four saxophonists (for those counting, one baritone, two tenors, and an alto), two guitarists, a stand-up bassist, two drummers and a keyboardist were among the many musicians taking turns together on stage. At one point, the band went through a lively rendition of John Coltrane’s famous “Blue Train.”

Audience member and second year communications student Jonathan Shedletzky noted that, “It was a showcase of Concordia talent. I thought that their performance was brave in that the music was mostly improvised. It’s not at all easy for any group of musicians to get up before an audience and collectively create a spontaneous set of music, and they were successful in doing so.”

Jazz Nights happen most Wednesdays, 10 p.m., at the Bonkif, located on the second floor of the Hall Building.

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