As the lights of Kresge Recital Hall slowly dimmed, the informal tête-à-tête of the audience softened, creating a welcoming vibe for the unaccompanied instruments on stage. On the Second Annual Winter Jazz Series, the atmosphere grew from excitement to high anticipation, as each musician took ownership of his or her own instrument on stage.
Along with Chicago-based performers including Dustin Laurenzi on saxophone, Quentin Coaxum on trumpet, Bryan Doherty on bass, Juan Pastor on percussion, Xavier Breaker on drums and Chas Kimbrough on vocal, the spirit of Langston Hughes, the highly acclaimed poet who greatly contributed to shaping the artistry in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance, was present on stage.
Hughes’ distinguished works could not have come to life without the help of Stu Mindeman, also a Chicago-based multitalented pianist and keyboardist, mainly known for working with a diverse range of musical genres including jazz, latin jazz, pop, R&B, salsa, merengue, funk, timba, hip hop, gospel and bachata, to name a few.
Mindeman incorporated “West African musics, soul, and jazz,” while respectfully preserving Hughes’ original poems in his recent CD, “In Your Waking Eyes: Poems by Langston Hughes,” including 111 original compositions.
Mindeman’s performance, along with his band, emitted serious color, as it was impossible not to groove along with the songs. The songs themselves produced a contemporary and vibrant voice. The stirrings of musical ardor could be felt by the audience.
In the tune of “Drum,” Hughes shares “that death is a drum beating forever,” and the rich beating of the drums innovatively portrays the words with great sense. The lyrics and the melody coalesce in euphony. Hughes’ “Sea Calm” sounds much like the stillness of the waters, supported by the soft vocal part, percussion and keyboard.
“I don’t know a lot about jazz but it was very powerful. The music was emotionally affecting, sometimes chaotic, and the lyrics were powerful,” senior Rebecca Gonshak said.
The performance especially impressed those familiar with Hughes’ work.
“Since I know Langston Hughes’ poems well, I felt they captured the spirit of them, even though the language of them was a little lost in the acoustics. But it didn’t matter to me, because [Chas’] voice became another instrument in the ensemble,” Professor of English Robin Metz said. Although the performance was certainly a success, many, including Metz, saw a deeper, cultural relevance to the showcase.
“I’m so glad to see the Galesburg and a regional audience here. It only disappoints me a little bit when students miss something like this. I wish every student would have been able to experience, to understand how important jazz is to American culture.”