David Levengood’s Freshmen Recital: Jazz Rap Fusion

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I’ve been to my fair share of jazz shows in my tenure as a jazz enthusiast and trumpet player; however, this recital put a rather interesting spin on jazz that challenged my classical perception of the genre. As seen in the picture above, you have your stereotypical jazz setup: pianist, saxophonist, drummer, and bassist; however, you also have someone wielding a microphone. What’s not apparent form that photo is that individual, also known as Sam Cowans, isn’t just singing, he’s spitting some perspective, interesting rhymes on top of some classic jazz songs. In the past I’ve seen some vocal jazz groups before and it was absolutely phenomenal and the addition of a rapper in the mix was even more interesting. The energetic group of musicians pictured above consisted of Phil Haynes on the drums, Zach Berliner on the saxophone, Sam Cowans on the mic, and our very own Alex Horowitz on the bass. From watching these individuals play together for a little over an hour, you would have thought that they had known each other for years and have been playing together for ages. The rhythm section of Levengood, Horowitz, and Haynes was rock-solid and provided a great foundation for the horn and rap embellishments from Berliner and Coawns respectively as they played through a setlist consisting of “All Blues” by Miles Davis, “All of Me” by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons, “Song for my Father” by Horace Silver, “Infant Eyes” by Wayne Shorter, “Persevere” by Snoop Dogg & Robert Glasper, “Equinox” by John Coltrane, “Body & Soul” by Sour, Green & Hyman, and “Solstice” by Bread Levengood.

This set list was the perfect mix of slow, technical jazz tunes to allow the musicians to demonstrate their tailored technique and mastery of their instruments and up-tempo, lively tunes that rendered an overall great atmosphere that captivated the audience the entire time.

Talking briefly about each musician, Sam Cowans did an excellent job bridging the gap between two seemingly unrelated genres. As mentioned, I would never couple jazz and rap, but Cowans defied all bounds with this one. Not only did his lyrics mesh very well the vibes surrounding each song, they were raw, emotional, and insightful. I can only hope to see more of his work in the near future.

To preface this next section, I’ve always had a huge passion for drumming, especially in a jazz setting but damn did Professor Haynes put on a show. Although he was deeper in the pocket than loose change, Professor Haynes periodically stole the spotlight with his enchanting, enthusiastic style. If you took away the drum set, it would have looked like Professor Hayes was doing some elaborate dance. It’s evident that Professor Haynes has spent years perfecting his skills and playing in array of settings.

Our very own Alex Horowitz, although the bassist can often be forgotten among the inner workings of a jazz show, did an excellent job of establishing the pace and feel of each song for his fellow musicians to build upon. Moreover, as a soloist on several of the songs performed, Horowitz reasserted his presence, with intricate, technical bass solos. Additionally, he graced the audience with his slapping abilities too.

Zach Berliner, as the only member of the horn section in this group, did an excellent job of maintaining a balance as to not overpower the rhythm section or the rapper while providing a much needed layer to the various tunes. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more from Berliner throughout the performance, especially more soloing because when he did unleash a solo, it was fantastic.

Finally, let’s not forget the star himself, the young David Levengood. Although he’s only in his first year at Bucknell, don’t let that fool you. Levengood looked like a seasoned vet up on stage as he gave the ivories everything he had. Also, let’s give him credit for piecing together this masterful ensemble in the first place. I am definitely looking forward to seeing more from this talented musician in the years to come.

Overall, the group as a whole produced an enjoyable performance that definitely left me craving more. Before this recital I unfortunately was not very exposed to the jazz scene here at Bucknell but I hope to be more involved in the near future. I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t had the chance yet to go see some of the upcoming recitals and jazz performances in general.

Photo credit of Jazz at Bucknell Facebook

Nick BartekJazz, Rap