MacDowell Downtown season finale

MacDowell Colony
Published: 10/31/2018 10:24:11 AM

Jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist Byron Asher will bring his clarinet to the Monadnock Center for History and Culture to close the 2018 MacDowell Downtown season on Friday, Nov. 2.

The improviser and composer – who has been based in New Orleans for eight years – will perform a few New Orleans standards to put in context his own brand of jazz improvisation. Performing live clarinet over backing tracks recorded for his latest record, Asher will share stories connecting the New Orleans jazz clarinet milieu with early 20th-century anti-Jim Crow activism. This free public event will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m.

Asher is in Peterborough for his first MacDowell Fellowship to develop new material in the wake of having released the album Skrontch Music, compositions for 10-piece ensemble exploring the intersection of radical politics and early New Orleans jazz. Though he’s recorded previously as a leader of several bands, this will be the first distributed under his name.

“The project incorporates bits of chamber music and approaches improvisation from an avant-garde jazz perspective, though it isn’t atonal,” says Asher. “It’s contemporary while looking back into the history of jazz in New Orleans.”

“The clarinet tradition,” he says, “comes from one neighborhood, and in many ways one family.” The Tio family, a dynasty of clarinet teachers from a majority Creole ward, taught classical techniques to New Orleans’s most renowned jazz clarinetists. Among their students were Omer Simeon of Jelly Roll Morton’s band, Jimmy Noone, and Sidney Bechet. In the 1920’s, the Tio family lived in the

same neighborhood as several key anti-Jim Crow agitators, and Skrontch Music is informed by the decidedly African-American musical form together with African-American efforts to expand civil rights.

“It’s fascinating that this community of people had so much, ultimately, national influence both culturally and politically, the ramifications of which we as a society at large have been dealing with throughout the 20th century and into today,” says Asher.

The young clarinetist, who has toured throughout Europe and the U.S., says the next iteration of Skrontch, still in its early stages, will be composed for a smaller ensemble, but follow similar themes as the first. It will be premiered next year with a recording to follow.

“There may be more sound collages similar to those used in the original version,” says Asher, referring to snippets of recordings he came across in Tulane University’s oral history collection. “The beginning of that work is happening now. I’m toying with different strategies. There’ll be some re-compositions of traditional jazz pieces extrapolated in a contemporary jazz, improvisatory way.”

To steep yourself in a blend of jazz and civil rights history, and to hear some foot-stomping clarinet, don’t miss this season-ending edition of MacDowell Downtown at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. The presentation begins promptly at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m., with light refreshments served.


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