Monday, December 29, 2014

High School All-Stars Alumni Interview: Aaron Bahr

As we bid adieu to 2014, we have a special December feature on alumnus Aaron Bahr, whose name you may recognize as our recent winner of the first annual HUT Foundation Alumni Commission Award. Aaron was a member of the High School All-Stars 2006-2008, and has been composing and performing with some of the greats ever since.  Click here to learn more about Aaron's commissioned piece, and read on to get more acquainted with this incredible young trumpeter and composer.

How soon after you starting playing jazz did you start arranging and composing?

"I’d say I became interested in composition maybe a year or two after I began playing. I recently went through a stack of old handwritten scraps of compositions from my early high school days -- mostly horrible, illegible, bad voicings, strange melodies, unresolved dissonances -- but a few were surprisingly okay. I can tell I was going for something, but just hadn’t learned the language properly. The process of writing those pieces was important for my own personal growth, though."

You went to two great music schools: Berklee College of Music for your undergrad and the New England Conservatory for your graduate work. Were there any ways that you felt the High School All-Stars program gave you an advantage going in?

"Absolutely! For one, auditioning for SFJAZZ added familiarity and comfort with the audition process, which was invaluable experience when it came to applying for schools. Secondly, the program is also a bit of a resume builder, which schools notice. But most importantly, playing with a group of amazing musicians on a weekly basis improved my own musicianship, both in terms of section playing (like reading and intonation) as well as improvising. I was in awe of what some of my fellow students were capable of, and was inspired to reach those levels and come to my own musical voice."

What's one of the most rewarding musical experiences you've had yet?

"This is a really tough question to answer, because there are just too many. A few were actually during my high school days playing with the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. Getting to perform with Joshua Redman, Miguel Zenon, and Stefon Harris definitely comes to mind. If I were to choose my most rewarding experience though, it would have to be studying with Maria Schneider. During my Berklee years, I had the amazing experience of studying with the her several times over the course of a semester, culminating in a big band concert featuring a piece of mine, as well as three other student composers’ pieces. The things I learned from her are instrumental even today in what I value as a composer and my own approach to melodic development."

Can you tell us what to look for on your album, Prologue, that really shows how you are growing as a composer?

Prologue features a four-part suite that was my most ambitious piece up to that point. I was experimenting a lot with harmony, using very dark colors with brighter, more vibrant colors, and seeing the way that they can either transition slowly from one to the other, or suddenly change in a more stark contrast. Melodically, I was trying to create something self-inclusive; the whole suite begins with a chorale which contains the melodic seeds of the entire piece. I sometimes feel like jazz compositions can feel like several pieces with nothing in common jammed together, that they lack some kind of common thread. The chorale in the beginning is the thread that holds together the suite."

Aaron being awarded the HUT Foundation Alumni Commission Award by Ravi Coltrane 

Be sure not to miss Aaron’s commissioned piece, “Kenny’s Song,” which will premier in the Miner Auditorium on March 22, 2015 at a specially recorded performance (tickets here). You can download Aaron’s CD, “Prologue,” on iTunes or order it online. You can also keep up with Aaron on Facebook and SoundCloud.

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