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Road to the big apple
Young jazz ensemble Post-Modern Prohibition holds final fundraiser for NYC jazzfest appearance
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The four members of the Sweetwater Jazz Project, a.k.a. Post-Modern Prohibition, are all young. Really young. Guitarist Travis Lyons and saxophonist Evan Gidley are freshmen at IPFW, while bass player Leland Nelson and drummer Sean Parr are high school juniors at Canterbury and Carrol respectively.
But they boast the musicianship of old pros, performing a style of jazz influenced by the jazz fusion of the late 60s and early 70s.
That musicianship has earned them a spot at the New York City Jazz Festival at Lincoln Center in mid-April. “I think we’re probably going to be the youngest ensemble performing there,” says Leland Nelson. “I’d have to fact-check that, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case.”
On Saturday March 23, the band is holding a final big fundraiser to help finance the trip to New York. It takes place at Ceruti’s Reception Hall off Ludwig Road (6601 Innovation Blvd).
They’re actually playing two gigs that night — the first at 6:30 PM is a private show for those who purchase tickets ($25) in advance, with food and a cash bar. The second show happens at 8 PM, and will feature sit-ins from other local musicians. Tickets for the second show are $5 at the door.
Once again, all money raised will go toward supporting the members' efforts to make it to the NYC Jazz Festival. Sweetwater has agreed to match any donations dollar-for-dollar in order to help the group make the trip to NYC.
Post-Modern Prohibition had its origins in the renowned music program at Memorial Park. Leland’s father Dave — also a bass player, and the unofficial logistics manager for the group — says some of the students were looking for opportunities to play together after they all dispersed to different high schools. They found a “home” at Sweetwater Academy. “The original band made up of all former Memorial Park students,” says Dave Nelson. “Different configurations of the band rehearsed and had some really nice playing opportunities.”
One of those opportunities was a session for WBOI’s Meet the Music program. Dave Nelson put the recording in the hands of Manhattan Concert Productions, who happened to have a Fort Wayne office right down the hall from him.
A few band members left to pursue a different musical direction. The current line up of Post Modern Prohibition fell together last year, after Leland hooked up with guitarist Travis Lyons and drummer Sean Parr. “Sean came along early in the summer for version 2.5, a trio at the time,” says Lyons. “Later that summer, I suggested to the others that Evan join the group, and thus version 3.0 was born.”
Lyons and Gidley aren’t Memorial Park alums, but all four members tell similar stories of how they got into jazz. “For me, it was just a drive to learn more intricate forms of music,” says Nelson, who started playing bass when he was in middle school. “I just gravitated towards jazz.”
Gidley began with piano lessons when he was younger, and picked up sax in sixth grade for school. “I started taking saxophone lessons with Dr. James Ator in seventh grade,” he says. “I also had a great band director at Snider (Mr. Kevin Klee) and I enjoyed being a part of his music program. All of my teachers encouraged me to listen to the music that I play — a lot of jazz and classical music. That really helps if you can hear what you are striving to sound like.”
Gidley continues: “I think it’s also important that I mention that my uncle is the owner of Conser Music here in town. He knows a thing or two about improvisation and he has certainly helped along the way.”
Lyons, for his part, says he’s always had a “strange passion” for guitar. “Honestly, it's almost an addiction,” he says. “I started because I wanted to play rock, but I heard the guitarists Pat Metheny and Wes Montgomery and I fell in love.” Lyons began lessons with Bob Ferguson, and now studies with Phil Schruger.
For their set at the New York City Jazz Festival, the group will play a set of original work. “We compose it in different ways,” Gidley explains. “A lot of the time Travis will come up with a chord progression and then I'll write a melody over the top. But sometimes it is the other way around. Most importantly though, we all contribute our own ideas to making the final product something worth listening to.”
Leland Nelson describes their style of jazz as jazz fusion, citing Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, and Weather Report as common influences. He’s quick to point out that it’s not easy listening music. “Some of my friends will tell me ‘yeah, I love jazz. It’s what I listen to when I go to fall asleep’,” Nelson laughs. “I think: ‘Is that a compliment? I don’t know’.”
“I think a jazz concert can be as intensive experience as any rock or hip-hop concert,” he continues. “I have to admit, it is a musician’s music, since some of it is so technical, and some of the different forms — like free jazz — doesn’t have any structure and can get difficult to follow. But I do wish audiences would recognize some of the improvisational skills jazz musicians have.”
No one in the group is a slouch when it comes to gigs and festival appearances. A few have played at the Detroit Music Festival, others have been part of the All State Jazz Ensemble (Nelson and Parr most recently). So, the prospect of performing at Lincoln Center isn’t nerve-racking as much as it is exciting. “It will be a great opportunity to participate in clinics with great jazz musicians,” Gidley says. “I'm looking forward to playing in front of a crowd that is really into jazz.”
Lyons adds: “ I'm not so much nervous as I am humbled. The more I listen to the greats, the more I realize that I am blessed to potentially follow in their footsteps — and the more I realize that I need to practice, practice, practice, and practice some more.”
The Sweetwater Jazz Project (aka Postmodern Prohibition)
Ceruti’s Reception Hall off Ludwig Road (6601 Innovation Blvd)
Saturday, March 23
Private show: 6:30 PM for patrons who purchase $25 tickets in advance. This show will include catered hors d'oeuvres and cash bar.
Public show: 8 PM. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.
Both shows will feature live music including the groups original material they will perform in NYC as well as arrangements of standards and jazz/pop tunes.
All money raised will go toward supporting the members' efforts to make it to the NYC Jazz Festival
TO PURCHASE TICKETS OR TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE GROUP:
(1) Send an e-mail to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) Leave your name, and the number of tickets that you want to purchase or state that you want to make a donation.
(3) An electronic invoice will be sent to you.