Nolan Gasser, Chief Musicologist of Pandora Radio and Architect of the Music Genome Project, came to UC Santa Barbara four times in February to talk about the role of music in our lives. During his speech “Bridging the Gap: Jazz Meets Classical,” Gasser also hosted a concert to accompany his lecture about the development of jazz in America.
Gasser highlighted that jazz is a fusion of musical styles, malleable and evolving over time. Rather than being a distinct genre, jazz is simply a way of playing music that highlights rhythmic syncopation and live improvisation. The audience was treated to a vibraphone solo to demonstrate this concept and learned that this percussive instrument had evolved from the marimba. The marimba, in turn, has its roots in an African instrument called the bilophone.
Gasser went on to talk about the influence of classical Western Art music on jazz. He explained that Gregorian chants introduced polyphony and melodic counterpoint, whereas experimentation with key and tonality came with the chords and harmonies of Baroque composers such as Bach.
Gasser then proceeded to discuss ragtime piano, which was strongly influenced by classical European composers such as Mozart, and he played one of Scott Joplin’s “ragged” piano compositions.
Eric Wolff, UCSB student and Internal Music Director at KCSB, said that it was interesting to hear about the historical relationship between jazz and classical music.
“It reminded me of the Stanton Moore clinic about New Orleans march music and second line,” he said.
In New Orleans, ragtime compositions were fused with an energetic performance style which adapted to audience reaction and relied on “call and response.” The melodic and harmonic sensibilities of European music were combined with the improvised rhythmic syncopation of African music to create jazz.
“Europe plus Africa equals jazz,” said Gasser. “And America, of course.”
The UCSB String Quartet produced the atmospheric impressionism of Debussy, and then Gasser’s jazz band laid out the smooth counterpoint of Beiderbecke’s brass.
Afterward, the two groups combined to play “Sketch” by the Modern Jazz Quartet, which incorporated string harmonies into a jazz composition.
After a rousing rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo,” Gasser played his composition “Decaphonics,” so called because of the 10/4 time signature. He ended the concert with a tune that was a combination of Bennie Goodman’s “Avalon” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” creating musical fusion in every sense of the word.
With influences ranging from Gershwin to Brubeck to the Beatles, it’s no wonder that he designed Pandora’s excellent method of breaking down and analyzing music to bring you the sounds that you want to blast.