According to the Bates website, the goal of the Olin Concert Series is to “engage the community with vibrant and eclectic programming that promotes artistic excellence, explore the widest spectrum of world cultures, and enhance the College’s academic programs.” This past Friday, Michael Dease Quartet played at Bates as part of the Olin Concert Series, and as far as I was concerned, achieved all of those goals.
Dease grew up poor in Alabama before moving to New York City to pursue his music career. He currently lives in Michigan where he teaches music at Michigan State University. In fact, the other members of his band are students of his that he recruits and takes on his tour all over the country.
According to Dease, jazz is the story of a journey. A journey from where you are, to the one you are going to. In his music, he relates to people from all over the South and the angst and struggle they faced as they moved to other parts of the country. Dease plays from a personal perspective, as he had difficulties adjusting to city life in New York.
Jazz is also the story of America, the story of the Great Migration, and the story of freed slaves sharing their African musical culture. It was interesting to see the variety in the audience. There were students required to come for class, students who were interested in the performance, and locals of an older generation, all of whom left satisfied by the sweet tones of Dease.
With that in mind, Dease’s album, “All These Hands,” represents all of the hands and lives that make America what it is today. The music traces the spread of jazz from New Orleans through the Midwest and up the East Coast with songs dedicated to New Orleans, Mississippi, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C amongst others. After each song, Dease would talk a little about the meaning and inspiration that went into it. As an audience member, you could feel his passion for his music and the culture behind it. Not only were we exposed to beautiful, soulful, enlightening music, but also to an educational experience that created a deeper meaning and connection to the music. I felt like I learned about the history of jazz and how it moved through the United States.
The best part for me was to see Dease’s willingness to share the stage and spotlight with his students. Many times throughout the performance he would step off to the side during a piano, bass, or drum solo, close his eyes, and enjoy the beautiful sounds. It was obvious that all of them were having an enjoyable time, which gave off a great energy that was palpable to the audience. As Dease said, “You can’t lose with the blues.”
The next, and final installment, of the Olin Concert Series is the Momenta Quartet on May 12, 2017. They are known for their passion for developing emerging composers and commitment to the forefront of the new music world. They also are an advocate for international and up and coming composers. Described as “diligent, curious, and excellent” by the New York Times, Momenta should be an educational music experience that should be attended by all Bates students.