Every year, Vassar’s Music Department carefully selects artists to be a part of its concert series. One annual concert is designated a Dickinson-Kayden Event that primarily brings jazz concerts to the Skinner Hall stage.
This year, Vassar presents the Julian Lage Trio, made up of esteemed jazz guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenney Wollesen. This acclaimed group was recently on an international tour. They will be performing at Skinner Hall’s Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall this Saturday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m., and the concert is free and open to the public.
Julian Lage, a child prodigy on the guitar, has such abundant musical prowess that he has performed with remarkable artists like Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, Nels Cline and Carlos Santana when he was only nine years old. There was even a documentary about him entitled “Jules at Eight.” He went to Berklee College of Music, appeared on stage at the Grammy Awards at age 13 and was a member of Gary Burton’s band at age 16.
Now, at 28 years, Lage has already had a successful musical career spanning two decades and has even been called the best living jazz guitarist.
Micah Katz-Zeiger ’18, a jazz student and guitarist himself, expressed his agreement with that opinion, after he saw him play in Boston with Gary Burton in 2012. “Modern guitarists usually tend to rely on distortions, echoes and other effects in their music, because even though it obscures the music, it’s much easier. But Julian is different; his music has a very clean tone. If I tried to play like that, all my mistakes would be clear. He’s really impeccable,” said Katz-Zeiger.
Another student musician, Rhys Johnson ’18 [Disclaimer: Rhys Johnson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Miscellany News] explained, “His successes are a testament to the fact that there still exists a place for young musicians even in a genre full of its fair share of old fossils who have taken their entire lives to get where they are.” He continued, “For a worried young musician like myself, there is definitely solace to be taken in that.”
Director of the Vassar College Jazz and Wind Ensembles James Osborn has an admiration for Lage as well. In an emailed statement, Osborn said, “What I love about his playing is the variety of styles and the brilliant creativity he displays in each of those styles. He also picks very engaging material, some of it from the first half of the 20th century, and mixes it with traditional acoustic guitar music, country influenced music, contemporary jazz and rock. His improvisations are always so interesting and inspired, and he sometimes moves the music in directions that are unpredictable.”
Katz-Zeiger articulated a similar view: “He brings in modern sounds, yet retains the essence and emotional quality of jazz and what it embodies.”
During the show at Vassar, Lage will be performing pieces from “Arclight” with his trio. All three of them share a great musical rapport. They’ve worked together in the past, perfecting a certain dynamic where they create and put together beautiful arrangements of songs. According to Katz-Zeiger, working in a trio is likely to highlight Lage’s skill as a guitarist.
Furthermore, both Katz-Zeiger and Osborn complimented Lage’s personality in addition to his musical talent. Katz-Zeiger shared an anecdote on how he went to see Lage’s show in 2012 with a friend of his who once took a class with Lage. Once the show was over, his friend approached Lage to congratulate him, and the acclaimed performer not only had full recollection of who Katz-Zeiger’s companion was, but also commented on how he loved his style during that one class they had together. His humility really shines through, making him an increasingly inspirational figure in jazz.
Osborn also remarked, “Despite his early success and fame, Julian has continued to grow as a musician and has remained humble and appreciative of his audiences. In listening to the radio interview with him, I was struck by how gentle, sensitive and thoughtful he was. He seems like a beautiful player and a beautiful person.”
Putting all this in perspective, it really is remarkable that someone so talented will be gracing a stage on which Vassar students practice every week. But then again, Vassar is known for bringing in the best of their fields. Jazz legends such as Jim Hall, Phil Woods, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Ron Carter, Eubie Blake and many more have performed at Vassar as a part of the Dickinson-Kayden concert series. This event last year starred members of Vassar’s own faculty, including pianist Peter Tomlinson, guitarist Mike DeMicco, bassist Lou Pappas, James Osborn on trumpet, Ed Xiques on saxophones and guest drummer Tom Melito.
In fact, classical guitar instructor Terry Champlin commented, “I’m going to go see it with some friends because I enjoy quality jazz music.”
Katz-Zeiger mentioned in parting, “I’ve listened to ‘Arclight,’ and I’m excited to hear how his album is going to sound live. My favorite piece is a ballad called ‘Nocturn,’ and I hope he plays it.”
With Lage’s immaculate sounds and original style, I’m sure the performance will be riveting. Don’t miss out on the trio this Saturday at 8 p.m. in our very own Skinner Hall!