Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Uncle Dan & Sophie Jam: A season closes out for the retrospective blend of music and chat

Dan Wakefield's got a bunch of stories; Steve Allee and Sophie Faught give him full attention.
We're always learning, but some people are lucky enough to encounter mentors early who put a special stamp upon what the learning process yields. Teachers in formal and informal situations alike point out the stepping stones toward  individual success. Their teaching often reaches beyond their specialties, extending to wider horizons.

The final session this season of "The Uncle Dan & Sophie Jam" at the Jazz Kitchen Wednesday night gave a free rein to such memories for host Sophie Faught, jazz saxophonist and composer; guest Steve Allee, pianist-composer-bandleader, and writer and co-host Dan Wakefield.

Wakefield, who put post-World War II Indianapolis on the fiction map with "Going All the Way"* and has had a variety of titles since, remembers the lift he got as a Shortridge High School student helping sportswriter Corky Lamm of the Indianapolis News with game stats.

His first byline for the Indianapolis Star was an account of an Industrial League championship game between the Allison Jets and the Link-Belt Warriors. The first boost? Handing the story in and watched the legendary Bob Collins scrawl in one of those soft-lead pencils across the top: "By Dan Wakefield."

For Faught, nurturing her development as a jazz saxophonist in her teens, it was Harry Miedema, then the jazz teacher on the University of Indianapolis faculty, who "let me know he expected I could play jazz with other people." Later, she would pick up intense instruction from David Baker, Indianapolis native and founder of jazz studies at Indiana University. "I would have three-hour lessons at his home," she recalled. "Then I would go back to Harry and we would digest all that — Harry was the enzyme."

"We learn from our connections with other people," Allee said. He named trumpeter-bandleader Jim Edison, who taught him the ins and outs of preparing ensemble performances, and Claude Sifferlen, a fondly remembered visionary pianist with whom he studied privately.

"He never told me what to do or how to play," Allee said. "He would just start playing, [having] asked me to stop him whenever I had a question." Sifferlen exposed Allee, the first musician in his family, to a wide variety of music, from Chick Corea to Bela Bartok. Also mentored by Sifferlen, Faught remembered something the pianist told her and other fledgling teen players long ago at the Jazz Kitchen: "The space between the notes is more important than the notes you play."

Typical of the neat organization of the "Jam" series, musical selections were inserted at appropriate places. Sifferlen's originality was poured spontaneously and almost exclusively into other people's compositions, but he did come up with a half-dozen original pieces, all of them cryptically titled "Zebra." Faught and Allee played "Zebra #3." Like Sifferlen's improvisations, it presented an angular, but coherent, melody, with the accompaniment pattern nervous but thoroughly unerring.

The first piece that gently interrupted the three-way conversation was "My Shining Hour." Like everything that followed, the song was vigorously laid out, with pungent solos. Faught's strong playing belied the fact that she's expecting her second child in December. Time away from the bandstand after the arrival is the reason the Uncle Dan & Sophie Jam ended for this season on Wednesday.

Resuming her seat at the discussion table, she said aptly:"The song is about rising to the occasion."


*Wakefield will host a showing of  the movie made from the novel on at the Propylaeum at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 26. He will introduce the film and answer questions after the screening. More information and tickets: danwakefield.com.

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