Cool Reborn: 6:30 Concert Series presents 'Birth of the Cool'

Andrew Kruse-Ross

andrew kruse-ross | 6:30 concert series | nov. 2017

The 6:30 Concert Series presents Birth of the Cool Nov. 29 at the Weidner Center. Designed to connect UWGB with the community through the exploration of music, the 6:30 Concert Series returns with its third offering of the season, this time recreating a jazz classic: Miles Davis' “Birth of the Cool."

The free concert series seeks to present a diverse style of music to area listeners and goes beyond simple recital and includes brief verbal commentaries that delve into the deeper meaning of the music being presented.

“It's meant to be this interactive way of presenting music … but the idea is to have this larger context. Where does this music come from and what does it mean?" says professor Michelle McQuade Dewhirst.

Commentary segments can be as diverse as the music being presented and may include a spoken introduction before a piece of music is performed at one show or take the form of a question and answer format at another.

During the “Birth of the Cool" performance on Nov. 29, history professor Clif Ganyard will offer a historical perspective on the recording while music professor Adam Gaines will provide a performer's view of the music being presented. While these verbal segments are brief — generally making up only 20 percent of the event — they offer perspectives that listeners don't receive in a traditional club setting and neither professor should be at a loss to discuss the evening's selection.

Like several of Miles Davis' recordings, “Birth of the Cool" was ahead of its time. Originally recorded in 1949, when bebop was the predominant jazz style of the day, “Birth of the Cool" was a different animal. The nonet assembled for the project featured the tuba and French horn; instruments not usually associated with smaller jazz outfits and incorporated elements of classical music that would pave the way for the future of jazz. The recording also marked the first collaboration between Davis and composer/arranger Gil Evans.

Originally released on a 78-rpm format, “Birth of the Cool" would have to wait a few years before listeners caught on.

“The stuff was recorded in '49 but it's really the 1957 album — because the technology changed by that point to have all of it on one album on two sides — that's when people really started to notice it, even though it was eight years old by that point," says Gaines.

“It's weird because it is literally the birth of the cool before anybody actually knew what the hell cool was."

As one might expect, tackling such a monumental recording is no easy task, even by skilled musicians like Gaines and McQuade Dewhirst. Despite the album's name and historic framing inside the “cool jazz" style, the recording isn't free from the up-tempo progressions generally associated with bebop.

“I'm a horn player and that's not the first instrument you think of in a small jazz group, as I'm working through this music and preparing it, the slower [songs] are right in my wheelhouse," says McQuade Dewhirst. “But to play these really fast bebop lines, I don't usually get parts like that."

Despite the challenges, the pieces necessary to take on “Birth of the Cool" began to fall into place within that last two years when a box set of the original written arrangements was first made available for purchase.

According to Gaines, he purchased the arrangements with a good idea of who would be playing the nine parts necessary to recreate Davis' nonet. Gaines himself will be on trumpet while McQuade Dewhirst will play French horn. Filling the other seven positions are a collection of area musicians with ties to the university, having either attended or taught at UWGB in some capacity. Those musicians include John Salerno on alto saxophone, Steve Johnson on tenor saxophone, Kevin Collins on trombone, Kelly Galarneau on tuba, Christine Salerno on piano, Michael Dewhirst on bass and Bill Sallak on drums.

6:30 Concert Series shows begin, as one might have guessed, at 6:30 p.m. The early start time makes the series more accessible to working professionals and families with children. McQuade Dewhirst says the series has been drawing increased crowds and she's seeing more families attending performances.

“We're starting to reach that broad spectrum that we've always thought this series could reach and that's really exciting."

Miles Davis' “Birth of the Cool" is Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m. and takes place in the Weidner Center's Fort Howard Hall. The 6:30 Concert Series is free but donations are welcome and go to support this series and other music projects at UWGB.

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