In the downstairs dining room of the Garden State Ale House with food that’s way too fancy for the average Rutgers student to afford, The New Brunswick Jazz Project is back at it again with another Emerging Artists Night.
On April 11, Jazzy Jon and the Hard Bop Hitters swooned the audience with their renditions of their favorite jazz tunes as well as originals written by the band’s frontman and guitarist Jonathan Kirschner, a Mason Gross School of the Arts sophomore.
Other band members included Stephen Yee on alto saxophone, Ryan Permaul on bass, and Nick Dekens on drums. All four students are Rutgers sophomores studying within the Mason Gross School of the Arts.
The Hard Bop Hitters performed a song written by Kirschner called “Imagined/Realized.” It started out with a mellow guitar solo performed by Kirschner followed by a few drumbeats by Dekens to change the mood of the song into a more upbeat tune. Then Yee took the main melodic lead with the rhythm section behind him before they traded solos.
The beauty of jazz soloing is that the musicians can either practice them beforehand or perform on the spot and play whatever comes to them. For this set, everyone performed completely original solos.
“That's part of what makes jazz music special,” Kirschner said. “The sheet music is just a guideline. (Jazz is) a very exciting kind of music: It’s alive and well and it’s a kind of music that’s always changing so it’s exciting because you can bring your own thing to it.”
The last piece that the group performed was “Aziza Dance” by Lionel Loueke, and it arguably received the loudest applause. The band members described the song as the hardest that they have ever played.
The song had many time signature changes, so initially, a listener tapping their foot or clapping along to the beat could suddenly find that they aren't in time with the music. But the musicians were so locked in that it seemed effortless, and the audience was able to get into the groove and appreciate the complexity of it.
Kirschner, Yee, Permaul and Dekens play at the Ale House frequently with the front man of the set changing each night. The week before, they played a set but with Permaul as the lead instead of Kirschner.
“Whoever is headlining the gig will choose the set we play,” Yee said. “Generally, it'll consist of standards, tunes, which are in the common repertoire, that we already know how to play or know how it sounds. Sometimes we'll do originals as well.”
Kirschner said that because the jazz program at Mason Gross is small, the musicians get to know each other well and it quickly creates opportunities for them to gig together.
Yee also addressed the fact that the students play together so frequently and that the setlist changes with every show.
“We try to get together to run the set once, and then usually we'll be ready,” Yee said.
If that doesn’t scream talent, what does?
Kirschner stated that his band’s name stems from an inside joke.
“Hard bop is a genre of jazz that I like and the guys make fun of me for it because it's not very complex compared to other styles.”
The New Brunswick Jazz Project hosts Emerging Artists Night every Tuesday night at the Garden State Ale House. The performing band’s set is immediately followed by an open jam session where musicians come out to just improvise and play off each other.