Ted Poor wants his University of Washington students to understand something: He can teach them a lot, but where they’ll really figure out how to play jazz is on the gig — outside the groves of academe.
“This music doesn’t live in school,” says the New York drummer, who has been doing three-week residencies each quarter at the UW this year and in the fall will become its newest jazz faculty member. “As wonderful as my education (at Eastman) was, my real education was playing every night. It’s not until you bring the music into the real world with your peers that it really comes to life and hits home.”
That’s a refreshing philosophy in an era when school programs have come to dominate jazz. Not surprisingly, Poor’s boss and decadelong musical colleague, jazz division head Cuong Vu, sees jazz the same way. Since Vu came to the university six years ago, he has encouraged students to take off the gown and get out on the town.
And they’ve done it, too, bringing some of the most exciting music in Seattle to the Café Racer sessions, Table and Chairs record label events and an improvised music festival they cheekily call ImpFest.
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ImpFest V gets underway Wednesday with a free clinic on campus with guitarist Bill Frisell, whose official new position as an “affiliate artist” with the jazz division was also announced this week.
Concerts in town (at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center) start Thursday with new work by Frisell performed by him, Vu, Poor and three graduate student clarinetists. On Friday, highly respected bassist Eric Revis, who also offers a workshop on the festival Thursday, collaborates with Poor and Vu with another set of students.
Revis is known as a longtime sideman of Branford Marsalis, but the bassist also has an experimental side, which he expresses in his work with German free improviser Peter Brötzmann. Poor, Revis and a student band will tackle that “outside” edge.
“It’s classic free jazz,” says Poor. “I’ve only played with Eric in Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Standards Trio, but now I’m looking forward to playing Albert Ayler and Sun Ra with him — open, raucous tunes. We’ve had five or six rehearsals and it’s been a blast.”
Poor also performs Friday with Vu’s group Trigger Fish, a trio that will become a quartet for this gig, with saxophonist Greg Sinibaldi.
Saturday’s concert features student groups: King Tears Bat Trip, which includes searing saxophonist Neil Welch and creative drummer Chris Icasiano; Japanese Guy, also with Icasiano and Fleet Foxes guitarist Skyler Skjelset; and a septet led by trumpeter Ray Larsen playing a six-part improvised piece titled “How Glass is Made.”
That’s an eclectic range of styles, but whether they’re playing free or straight-ahead, Poor tells his students to play every note as if their lives depended on it. That’s the way it’s done in New York, and while Poor may be relocating to Seattle — he and his pregnant wife and 3 1/2-year-old daughter have found a house on Phinney Ridge — he doesn’t want to lose that “sense of urgency” so central to jazz in the Big Apple.
“If I ever feel I’ve lost my appetite for that kind of intensity it’ll be time to go back to New York,” he says.
Let’s hope he sticks around.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org