Old school vs. new school at jazz outreach

Some people are purists. Some people are innovators. Fortunately when it comes to the inherent nature of jazz, there's room for both. At least that's what Jeff Rupert, director of Jazz Studies at the University of Central Florida, wants his students to learn and wants Orlando to have a chance to discover with the free jazz concert and clinic series he facilitates every semester.

Past programs have brought traditional jazz musicians, such as James Moody, Bob Berg and Terry Gibbs, but now Rupert thinks it is time to deviate from the beaten path and introduce a taste of the rock-jazz-blues fusion genius of The Hermanators, from New York City. The trio, whose members have recorded or performed with the likes of David Sanborn, Brother Jack McDuff, Mino Cinelu and the Brecker Brothers, includes guitarist Mitch Stein, bassist Kipp Reed and drummer Rodney Holmes (who was featured on Santana's "Supernatural" on the song "Smooth").

"It's the depth of their musicianship and the reality that these guys are making money," says Rupert, in defense of his decision, which might raise a few eyebrows. But Rupert, a saxophonist who currently mans lead alto in jazz vet Sam Rivers' RivBea Orchestra excursions, is a veteran composer and arranger who graduated from a jazz program steeped in tradition. He thinks what the Hermanators bring is not only an important reflection of the diverse demands of audiences and the industry, but an approach to music that falls within the true jazz idiom.

"These guys don't stick between the lines. ... It's like what [legendary saxophonist and clarinetist] Sidney Bechet said about jazz," says Rupert. "It has to have the elements of the blues, but it has to keep moving. Jazz has to change. ... If I sound like John Coltrane, am I in the jazz tradition? No, because I am not creating."

Stein shares Rupert's rebel philosophy about jazz and music in general. It is a philosophy that took form in 1993 when he, Reed and Holmes got together to form the trio. They decided to merge their distinctively singular styles and influences into music not concerned with stylistic boundaries. "So much is going on now in music that we try to incorporate that into our own language with elements of straight rock, world music like Brazilian samba, bossa nova, African and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and American music -- gospel to blues to jazz," says Stein.

Indeed, their debut 1998 instrumental album, "Twister," represents a breakthrough interpretation and fusion of tried-and-true music forms, defining and redefining rock, jazz and blues.

Like many seasoned musicians who started out in a specific tradition, Stein had to come full circle to embrace his all-encompassing musical viewpoint. In college, Stein fell in love with jazz and found himself a hard-line, "straight-ahead" jazz guitarist. Years went by before he grew dissatisfied with the limitations and his inability to reach his generation with his music and ideas.

Rupert, like Stein, terms himself a former music "snob" and wants to make sure that as an educator, he gives his students a range of possibilities to experience, not just from the academic standpoint but also the artistic. "I want to stimulate them to be more open-minded but build their strength from a solid foundation. From there, they can be good innovators."

Rupert is sure that though some might find his hosting of The Hermanators to be somewhat of a betrayal of tradition, the music will excite and inform a lot more people about the magic of jazz.

Instructional events: Rodney Holmes Drum Clinic, 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16; Rhythm Section Clinic (with whole trio), 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Feb. 17; Bass Clinic, 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. Feb. 18; Guitar Clinic, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 18; all held at UCF Rehearsal Hall, University of Central Florida; free; (407) 823-3312.


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