Jazz pianist Thor Polson has recently released a new CD, “Thor Polson & Friends, The Portal.” Besides performing, Polson teaches piano and languages: Latin, ancient Greek and German. One afternoon, we met at Bloomsbury Coffee House in Ashland.
EH: Tell me about your performances.
TP: It’s just an expression of pure joy. We play the music that I and other band members love. It’s flipping the joy switch. I count it down, and we’re just off to the races. I suppose I feel responsible for having prepared all that music; but when I’m playing it, I feel that it has gone through me, that I haven’t generated it. To me, musicians are conduits, not vessels: I don’t feel responsible for the music. When people compliment me, I don’t know what to say. I suppose, if I were playing a completely written-out piece of music, OK. But when it gets into improvising, I don’t know what will come out. It will depend on my mood, or my health, or the angle of the sunlight, or moss growing on a tree. Who knows what will happen?
Dr. Alexander Tutunov, Southern Oregon University’s Professor of Piano and Artist in Residence, is now preparing for his Tutunov Piano Series beginning Oct. 11. The Series features seven internationally acclaimed virtuoso pianists.
At age 6, Tutunov was recognized as a prodigy by the Russian government and was enrolled to study piano in the Music School of the Moscow Conservatory. We visited in the Music Building on the SOU Campus.
AT: That boarding school was a fantastic place. We were all freaks of nature, but we didn’t know that, so we didn’t develop an ego or an inferiority complex. Our favorite pastimes were to read through an opera, or play duets with each other, or sing. And it was instilled in us that having talent plus superb training goes with a responsibility: that we’ve got to share. That’s how I see my mission now, and I do my best.
Ed Dunsavage, artistic director of the Siskiyou Institute, promotes jazz and jazz studies throughout the Rogue Valley. He is also a guitar instructor at Southern Oregon University. We met at Boulevard Coffee to talk about jazz.
ED: The guitarist Frank Zappa had a great quote: “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.” Like classical music, it’s probably in the 2 to 3 percent range of what people listen to. Jazz, as an art form, is recognized worldwide. It’s more appreciated in Europe and Asia than here.
EH: Is there a difference between jazz and classical musicians?
ED: I think there is a difference in terms of attitude, from the classical approach to the jazz approach; they’re different worlds. Classical musicians are amazing sight readers and interpreters of music, but if you ask them, “Can you improvise over these chord changes?” that’s a whole different thing.
Josh Gross, artistic director of Puppeteers for Fears, has written a new horror musical comedy, “Robopocalypse: the Musical!” which opens Oct. 20 at Pioneer Hall in Ashland. It features live puppets, a live rock band with synthesizer, puppet rap battles, a light show, and multimedia backgrounds. I met Gross at Case Coffee Roasters on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland.
JG: A core part of our mission has always been to create new art and new pieces that come from a local voice. No one will have ever seen a puppet show quite like this one. We want to make theater for people who’ve never been given a reason to like theater. They’ve never seen a show that speaks to them, and they’ve never seen it in a place that they feel comfortable. There’s a whole untapped market out there.
EH: What are you saying with this musical?
JG: We should all be very afraid of artificial intelligence. Technology is now progressing faster than our understanding of its implications: It’s, in many cases, operating outside of a moral framework. It’s barreling along so fast, that we don’t know what we’re doing with it. The core of the musical is just a family drama, and how you cope with loss.
EH: How does this relate to politics?
JG: Our politics are not addressing the real threats that we face. We’re dumping money into military defense, and yet we’re actively at cyber war and little to nothing is being done about it. It’s this slow-moving disaster, where the groundwork is being laid, and no one sees the threat until it’s too late to do anything about it. We have integrated technology into our lives, but we aren’t thinking about, “What happens if it fails?” There are serious consequences that are worth serious consideration and careful policy. But I wouldn’t say that that’s the major emphasis of the musical. Continue reading Adult-themed puppet show tackles ‘Robopocalypse’→
Pianist Martin Majkut will perform with flautist Katheryn McElrath in concert at Grizzly Peak Winery on July 16 and 17. In a recent conversation, Majkut, Rogue Valley Symphony’s music director, gave me some insights into the development of classical music.
MM: In general, I am convinced that we are moving away from music that was very academic. Music of the second half of the 20th century often consisted of composers in ivory towers disrespecting accessibility, and thinking, “If you’re not good enough to understand my art, then I don’t want you,” which is such a silly proposition.
All of the great composers wrote with people in mind. Otherwise, the music is dead, it’s on paper. We need the audience to complete the circle. Without them, we’re lost.
I see a trend in music that is deep and meaningful, but at the same time, accessible. It gives you a full range of emotions, not just freaky and dark, but also with elation and romance. We’re going back to an era where all these things are embraced in their totality, not just: “Let’s just wallow in despair and sadness.” Continue reading It’s OK to get lost listening to classical music→
Scott Kelly plays the Gravedigger in “Hamlet,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But there’s something else: Throughout nearly all of the play, looking up from the audience toward the Elizabethan Theatre’s “heavens,” you see Kelly, an enigmatic figure, surrounded by musical instruments and bathed in a deep-red light. Kelly’s music provides a psychological resonance for Hamlet’s inner monologues with an occasional duet with Hamlet on electric guitar. I saw the first preview, and the undercurrent of music intensifies the emotional impact of the language.
Before joining the cast of “Hamlet,” Kelly spent eight years as an OSF sound technician. A gifted musician, Kelly often tours internationally with his heavy metal band, Neurosis.
EH: When did you know you wanted to be a performing artist?
SK: I was focused on music at a young age. I was driven by it. I started out playing music mainly inspired by punk rock. That was how I learned. It was the kind of music where your emotion mattered more than your skill level, at the onset. If you felt it, you could get up and do it. I slowly learned. I taught myself how to play through the course of that, through touring, and being exposed to the world and other musicians. My initial influences were bands like Black Flag and Black Sabbath and early Pink Floyd. Then I came across Miles Davis and Hank Williams and more obscure underground stuff, noise music, and avant-garde music. I like some hip-hop music. I like Wagner, Prokofiev; I like the heavy classical stuff, anything that moves me. I like emotion-driven music. I don’t like cookie-cutter stuff. I’ve got to feel it in the words or the music. It could be (the poet) Charles Bukowski, to me he’s very musical. I just need to feel it. Continue reading ‘Hamlet’ music maker and grave digger→
When “1776” opens at the Camelot Theatre, it will begin with a drum solo by Steve Sutfin, Camelot’s resident drummer and photographer. A professional musician, Sutfin toured internationally, finding a home base in Ashland. Steve’s iconic photos have graced Camelot’s programs and the pages of local newspapers. We met at the Whistle Stop in Talent.
EH: When did you become a photographer?
SS: As a professional musician, I took up photography so I could starve in a second art form.
EH: You contribute your time and talent to the Camelot Theatre. Why?
SS: I believe in the theater. I love playing music in the theater. I’ve been in bands for 45 years, playing rock ‘n’ roll and blues and traveling. I got tired of it. I found I liked hanging around with actors better than I did with musicians. They’re a little bit more intellectual and witty. Musicians are fun, I am one. It was a natural evolution for me. It’s something I want to do. I like theater. Continue reading Steve Sutfin→