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The University of Hartford

WWUH Co-sponsors John Coltrane Tribute Sept. 23 at Cheney Hall
Stellar Regions to Feature Sax Great Dave Liebman with Ron Bosse & Pursuance
by Chuck Obuchowski

    WWUH radio and the Little Theater of Manchester (LTM) present Stellar Regions, a special concert commemorating the life and music of John Coltrane, at 8 p.m. on the occasion of the saxophonist’s 74th birth anniversary--Saturday, September 23. Guitarist Ron Bosse and his quintet Pursuance guarantee unique arrangements of material spanning much of the legendary reedman’s brief but prolific career. They will be joined by special guest Dave Liebman, a respected Coltrane protege who has been fervently developing his own potent body of work for the past three decades. Cheney Hall, one of Greater Hartford’s most active nonprofit arts presenters, is located at 177 Hartford Road in Manchester. General admission tickets are $15; gold circle reserved seating is available at $20. For advance reservations, call the Cheney Hall box office at (860) 647-9824.

Pursuin’ the Trane

     Ron Bosse formed Pursuance several years ago in Boston, where he had recently graduated from the Berklee College of Music. As principal composer for the ensemble, Bosse says he seeks "to retain that indispensable element of jazz—swing and groove—but at the same time be progressive and try to push the limits of rhythm, harmony and form." He named the band after a piece from John Coltrane’s masterpiece, A Love Supreme.
     The current Pursuance roster is comprised of vibraphonist Will Hudgins, saxophonist Jason Hunter, bassist Scott Barnum and drummer Rob Egan. Each member is capable of creating intense personal improvisations, but each is also committed to maintaining a strong group identity. The quintet has issued two compact discs to date, both on Thinking Man Records. The more recent, a 1999 release called Emotion and Intellect, includes two inspired cameo performances by tenor saxist Gary Thomas.
     Over the past 18 months, Ron Bosse and Pursuance have begun carrying their musical message to listeners beyond the Bay State. Connecticut audiences first glimpsed them at the 1998 Litchfield Jazz Festival. Since that time, they have appeared at Hartford’s Cafe 880 and Middletown’s Buttonwood Tree.
     Although Bosse initiated the idea that Pursuance should host a Coltrane celebration, his bandmates were immediately receptive and excited by the prospect. Hudgins, a percussionist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and professor at the New England Conservatory, has a past association with longtime Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones. He can also claim a Liebman connection, having studied years ago with Stellar Regions’ guest performer, who coincidentally is himself an alumnus of several Elvin Jones ensembles.

Autumn Liebs

     Jazz Times says of Dave Liebman, "with his sophisticated harmonic technique and vast technique, he is still regarded as a saxophonist’s saxophonist, one of the few to absorb fully and build upon the Coltrane ideal." Liebman has made over 75 recordings as a leader and is a featured sideman on more than 150 others. He was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 4, 1946. As a young man, he studied theory and composition with Lennie Tristano and took saxophone and flute lessons with Charles Lloyd.
     In 1969, Liebman became an ardent member of the New York City loft scene; his musical colleagues during this period of free-form experimentation included Chick Corea, Dave Holland and brothers Randy and Michael Brecker. However, it was a stint with Miles Davis (1973-74) that catapulted Liebman into the international jazz spotlight. Soon after, he formed Lookout Farm, a daring ensemble that added elements of rock and various ethnic folk musics to his already expansive sonic palette. In the ensuing years, Liebman has led several different small groups and worked extensively with a collective quartet known as Quest. His current band, with guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Jamey Haddad, has been together since 1991.
     When he’s not busy touring or recording, Liebman devotes his energies to various facets of jazz education. He presently serves as Artisitic Director for the International Association of Schools of Jazz, an organization he founded in 1989. This network links educators and students in 40 different countries through meetings and exchange programs. Liebman is also the author of numerous books and articles about jazz. His contributions to teaching earned him a permanent place in the International Association of Jazz Educators’ Hall of Fame earlier this year.
     During the 1970s, Liebman gigged in the Constitution State fairly often after forging musical bonds with a number of Connecticut improvisers. Those days were short-lived, however, once the saxman began enjoying greater success in Europe and Japan. Liebman’s participation in Stellar Regions on September 23 marks his first Hartford-area appearance in many years.

Impressions of Giant Steps

     Dave Liebman attended his first Coltrane gig at age 15; the event proved to be an epiphany for the young musician, who had only recently begun exploring the jazz idiom. The "classic quartet" Liebman witnessed that evening featured McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. His fascination with the music these men played together lured him back to hear them again and again. Liebman estimates he saw this quartet in performance as many as 30 times over the next several years. Coltrane’s command of the then-neglected soprano saxophone prompted Liebman (and innumerable other reed players of his generation) to take up the instrument, in addition to his tenor sax studies.
     On January 27, 1987, Liebman assembled two quintets—one acoustic, the other electric—to record a remarkable tribute to his musical mentor. In his liner notes for Homage to John Coltrane, he writes, "John Coltrane’s influence on contemporary music has been awesome, ranging beyond his incredible saxophone playing. The intensity and conviction of Trane’s music stands as a pinnacle of inspired creativity among all of twentieth century art."
     Ron Bosse is too young to have been among the privileged audiences who heard musical history in the making at the Village Vanguard and other Big Apple jazz haunts of the early 60s. Yet, his appreciation for Coltrane’s artistry is no less enthusiastic than Liebman’s. At the same time, both Bosse and Liebman are committed to expanding upon the jazz tradition, not merely duplicating past masterpieces. They ascribe to the philosophy that, in order for jazz to remain exciting and innovative, artists must be willing to take risks, to explore new directions, just as Coltrane did throughout his life. Therefore, Stellar Regions promises to deliver fresh, inspired approaches to the compositions of one of the most respected jazz artists of all time.

Copyright©WWUH: September/October Program Guide, 2000

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