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Encores and Curtain Calls

Encores & Curtain Calls: Dynamic, angular & playful

“You got to play the flute as a flute — like that; you can’t play — like — a tenor concept on soprano; it sounds wrong. But some guys do it, and they think it’s OK, but not so!”

— Jerome Richardson,
tenor saxophonist and flutist

Jazz pianists, guitarists, horn players and drummers are — relatively speaking — a dime a dozen; but it’s not so often the jazz world gets to swing to the beat of a master flutist/composer and, by all reports, that is exactly what Jamie Baum looks to be.

Her sextet will be performing at the Community Music School of Springfield, 127 State St., Springfield, on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m., with Amir ElSaffar on trumpet, Brad Shepik on guitar, John Escreet on piano, Zack Lober on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums.

Tickets, $15, are available at http://jazzshares.org. 413-732-8428.

The concert promotes the release of her new CD, “In This Life;” of it, Baum says: “While this recording is the third with my septet and fifth as leader ... I know this project is my best to date reflecting the coming together of many diverse influences and experiences from the past 10 years. The biggest influence comes from several tours to South Asia, where I was touched viscerally by the sound of the tabla, Bansuri flute and vocal music. Having been introduced to the music of the late Pakistani Qawwali vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, I was immediately hooked.”

It wasn’t until relatively late, in 1956, that the jazz magazine Downbeat established the Jazz Flutist of the Year Award — due most largely to the fact that, until then, technology was not universally present to pick up and broadcast the flute’s light-bodied voice. Since then, a lot of jazz sax players have periodically jumped track — as the fingering technique of the two instruments is quite similar — and broken new ground for the instrument, along with its early specialists, like Herbie Mann, who, while initially a sax player, devoted his career to flute.

Baum’s style is, in turn, dynamic, angular, breezy and playful, spinning strand after strand of flute music into a densely saturated soundspace as she focuses, with all the intensity of any classical soloist, on the demands of her self-created charts.

Baum’s previous two CDs, “Moving Forward, Standing Still,” and “Solace” were included in several Critics Pick lists for “Best CDs of the Year” in 2004 and 2008 respectively. She was a winner of the prestigious 2003 New Works: Creation and Presentation Award, a component of the Doris Duke/Chamber Music America Jazz Ensembles Project and their New Works: Encore Program grant in 2007. The recipient of the ’99 International Jazz Composers Alliance/Julius Hemphill Composition Award in the Small Group category.

She has worked as a leader or sidewoman with a wide range of consummate musicians in a wide range of styles, including Brazilian, Indian and Latin music.

Baum was chosen to go on a six-week tour of South America, sponsored by the U.S. State Department/Kennedy Center Jazz Ambassador Program to perform and give master classes in Columbia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and the Dominican Republic, beginning with a concert at the Kennedy Center in the fall of 1999. By competitive audition, Baum won a second five-week tour for the same program to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Thailand with guitarist Ken Wessel and bassist Jerome Harris.

I had a chance to chat with Baum recently on her upcoming gig:

JM: From the YouTube videos of your performances, it looks as if you’ve zeroed in on the alto flute (a flute lower in range than the soprano)?

JB: Yes, but I also use the soprano (the standard classical) flute as well.

JM: In your jazz performances?

JB: Yes.

JM: What determines your choice of either?

JB: A few things, actually. Sometimes the range of the melody, which doesn’t always dictate that because the music can certainly be transposed up from alto flute to soprano. It depends what sound I’m looking for; the flute and the alto flute have very distinct personalities.

JM: Is it true in the jazz venue as in the classical, that the alto flute speaks much more softly than the soprano?

JB: Well, you know, the advent of the microphone and the amplifier has changed all that.

JM: Oh, right, you’re plugged in when you play ...

JB: Yes, I am.

JM: So, it’s like all those old Henry Mancini film scores where, when he used a chorus of alto flutes with his orchestra, he would balance the softness of their sound by miking them very close.

JB: Yes.

JM: But even so — all things being equal — the soprano flute must still have a shriller, more penetrating effect than the alto?

JB: It is; but the alto flute in its higher registers can be fairly shrill as well. It used to be that my choice of flutes was based on the type of tune. If it was an up-tempo tune, you know, the alto flute, with its softer sound and larger size, is a little harder to get around, and makes it harder to “speak” and “cut” (produce sharp musical attacks) and all that kind of stuff. Although, for the last few years, people have hired me to play alto flute on all kinds of stuff, so I really have had to learn to negotiate the instrument in all kinds of musical situations that, perhaps, I otherwise wouldn’t have.

JM: I like the way the sound of the alto flute reaches down into the heart center.

JB: Yeah, yeah ...

JM: Recently, I wrote a set of three pieces for 12-member flute choir for the premiere of a new dance company and used several bass flutes in it; have you ever played one in performance?

JB: I’d like to, but I travel a lot and it’s so hard to carry along everything I already use — my flutes and my pickups, my music — and, of course your toiletries and everything else you need with you. So, I’ve been sort of hesitant to get into the bass flute.

JM: How big are they?

JB: They’re pretty big. It looks, maybe, like a bass clarinet case (roughly 42 inches). But about a month ago, my instrument sponsor said they’d be happy to loan me a new model of the bass flute, so I’m looking forward to see what I can do with that.

JM: Wow ... I’m interested in your process: do you sit down with pencil and paper when you create your pieces?

JB: I sit down at the piano; I might have some idea of what I want to do and noodle around a bit; but ... it’s usually after the fact that I sort of see what I’ve actually done.

JM: So then, you’re somewhat facile at the keyboard?

JB: I’m not great and so I use the piano in tandem with Digital Performer, which I learned when I was at Manhattan School. Once I have some ideas, I’ll input them into Digital Performer — since I don’t have really great piano chops — and it allows me to hear what I’ve done in real time.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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