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Jazz Rolls Off The Mountain

Fri., Aug. 11, 1995, midnight

For years, some of the best jazz in the area has been made on a North Idaho mountaintop, and there it has stayed.

But now it’s coming down off the mountain.

Monday night at The Met, the students and faculty of the jazz department of the Schweitzer Institute of Music will make their first local appearance.

“We’ve always felt that whatever we can do to share the genius we have up there with more people, that’s our goal,” said executive director Connie Berghan.

Judging from an informal mountain-side concert Monday night in the St. Bernard Club, the show will be a good one. Three student ensembles - each under the direction of a professional instructor - played extended sets of original compositions and covers. The quality of the songwriting and musicianship were impressive, and so was the rapport that had developed among the groups following just a week of study.

“I definitely think this is the highest level we’ve ever had, overall,” said Ed Schuller Monday after the concert. Schuller, the son of Gunther Schuller, is a professional bass player and director of the institute’s jazz program.

“We’ve always had good players, but they’ve been at different levels. This year, we have a consistent level of player so you don’t have some of them holding the others back.”

Schuller calls this year’s batch of students the “most motivated” he has seen in five years of instructing.

“I have to tell them to quit.”

And it showed in the music Monday night. The performances reflected artistic director Gunther Schuller’s belief in formal jazz composition: this isn’t solo-chart music, but carefully constructed songs that utilize advanced concepts of harmonics, time and melody. There’s lots of soloing - much of it truly exceptional - but it takes place in the context of a structured arrangement.

Remarkably, much of the material performed Monday night had been written by students in the few days preceding the concert.

Schuller said some of the students are professional musicians who “just want to come out here and get away from the pressures of getting gigs and the everyday stuff” and put themselves in an environment where they’re surrounded by music.

Part of the allure is the quality of instruction. Schuller has led his own bands, and worked in the bands of Mal Waldron, Jim Pepper, Paul Motian, Jacki Byard and Tim Berne. His 1993 record “Mu-Point” includes such illustrious sidemen as Dewey Redman, Paul Motian and Bill Bickford.

Kenny Werner, piano, teaches at New York’s New School and keeps his own trio busy. He’s recorded with Charles Mingus, Peter Erskine, Lee Konitz and Mel Lewis.

Drummer Billy Hart began his career as Shirley Horn’s drummer and has played with McCoy Tyner, Paul Bley, Dexter Gordon, Tom Harrell and Stan Getz, to name just a handful. He co-founded Colloquim III, a progressive percussion ensemble and is a charter member of the Mingus Dynasty and the Jazztet.

Joe Lovano, saxes, has stepped into the spotlight during the four years he has taught at Sandpoint, having recently been named Musician of the Year by Down Beat magazine. His latest CD, “Rush Hour,” a collaboration with Gunther Schuller, was named Best Record.

The instructors, less Hart, who had a previous engagement, will perform a set Monday.

xxxx Schweitzer Institute Jazz Concert Location and time: The Met, Monday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $16

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