Jazz is an acquired taste. Jazz dance is easily twice the acquired taste that the music is, but the Jazz Antiqua Dance and Music Ensemble’s performance in Harbeson Hall on Feb. 21 made both artistic expressions easy to appreciate and inclusive to an otherwise inexperienced listening audience.
Founded in 1993 by artistic director and choreographer Pat Taylor, Jazz Antiqua was brought to PCC in celebration of Black History Month, in an event entitled, “Art of Jazz to Jazz: A Legacy in Music & Dance.” The group performed with nine dancers and a four-piece jazz band consisting of drums, bass, piano and a virtuosic lead singer.
After the dancers introduced themselves and performed one dance, the drummer of the band Dextor Story took the audience through an entire history of jazz using drum rhythms.
“Jazz is such a broad term,” Story said. “But the sources for the rhythm of jazz come from West Africa, Western Europe and New Orleans all blending together.”
This history lesson, complete with rhythmic examples of each style by the band, was followed by an expressive dance set to John Coltrane’s “Africa,” in which the dancers relied heavily on improvisation. When the piece ended, Taylor, the band and the dancers explained what improvisation meant to them.
“Improvisation means the freedom of expression. A lot of time dancers are afraid of improvisation. They want to be told how to think, how to feel,” Taylor said. “We approach improv as taking all that’s come before us and use it as our foundation. Improvisation is a group endeavor.”
Each member of the band spoke after each song finished and Trevor Ware, the bassist of the group, explained improvisation in a musical sense.
“Jazz is a construct that expects that you will improvise,” Ware said. “The beauty of improv is creating, in that moment, something that has never been created and will never exist again. It’s beauty in that moment. For artists, it’s very liberating.”
A classical recital, this was not. Every song was performed with increasing intensity and emotion by highly gifted and graceful dancers with the accompaniment of a band that has played together for over 20 years. Audience participation – clapping, hooting and a question-and-answer session afterwards – was encouraged. Pat Taylor and her troupe made an evening of jazz accessible to anyone from a jazz novice to the editor of DownBeat Magazine.
“I thought they were well educated and passionate about the art form,” said audience member and PCC student William Brockmann, bio-medical engineering. “When the drummer went over the particular rhythms, that was the most succinct and comprehensive history of Jazz I’ve ever heard.”
PCC was lucky to have Jazz Antiqua, whose next move, according to Taylor, is the prestigious Playboy Jazz Festival.