Archive for Saturday, August 17, 1991


August 17, 1991


In his office, Dan Gailey holds a Star Wars version of a saxophone that's plugged into a computer and a synthesizer.

It has fingerings like a saxophone, and when you blow into it, it makes music. But it's music translated into digital symbols and shot back to the ear.

Does it make traditional jazz artists cringe?

"Pretty much,'' said Gailey, assistant professor of jazz studies at Kansas University. "The older players do cringe when they see it, and a few of the younger ones cringe, too. It just shows how conservative some jazz players really are.''

But for Gailey, digital jazz is part of the wave of the future, just as Gailey is now a part of the future of the music and dance department.

Hired in 1990 to replace Ron McCurdy, Gailey was appointed this spring to the tenure-track position for jazz studies in the School of Fine Arts.

ONE OF the more visible professors on the campus, Gailey leads three jazz bands, a jazz chorus and worked last year with the Jazz Ensemble I on the Rock Chalk Revue. He holds a bachelor's degree from Pacific Lutheran College and a master's degree in jazz from the University of Northern Colorado.

Of course, Gailey has been known to play the more traditional kind of saxophone the shiny, gold type in jazz festivals and orchestras. For example, he played in a combo last year on Sunday nights at Benchwarmers in Lawrence. In September, he plans to head to Sweden, where a friend of his has a big band.

But he's also making a name for himself in composing. This summer he was working on four commissions, including two from groups at the University of Northern Colorado.

"ONE OF the professors there commissioned me to write a piece for something called a KAT mallet," Gailey said. "It's a synthesizer that's controlled in the style of a vibraphone with a mallet. He came to me and asked if I would write some compositions for jazz ensembles that were using the KAT mallet.''

A lot of his composing gets set down on a floppy disk instead of note paper. Off the synthesizer in his Murphy Hall office he can play music and have it recorded digitally for later recall.

Composers who work in jazz frequently allow the musicians to improvise on top of the melodies that are written out. But electronic technology is changing that, Gailey said. Computers play back what's been composed and can't improvise.

"I'M USING less and less improvisation in my work," he said. "I'm sacrificing some freedom by using the digital technology.''

Gailey grew up in the Pacific Northwest and became interested in jazz as an adolescent.

"My junior high had one of the few jazz bands at that time on that level," he said. "We played all the traditional band music, but we also played a lot of jazz. Before that I was listening to Top 40 AM radio, and it was through that jazz band that I got my first exposure.''

In his year at KU, he's found students with all levels of knowledge about jazz.

"My difficulty is that I judge people according to my knowledge of jazz when I was a freshman, which was pretty extensive," he said. "But I've had students who know much more than I do about jazz and have far larger CD collections than I do.''

HE ESTIMATES that about 120 students, both inside and outside the School of Fine Arts, participate in jazz programs. The three jazz ensembles on campus are ranked by ability the most advanced students are in Jazz Ensemble I.

"It's completely based on ability," he said. "We have seniors in Jazz Ensemble III and freshmen in Jazz Ensemble I.''

Gailey also will supervise the 1992 Jayhawk Invitational Jazz Festival April 17-18. The festival brings in both professional jazz artists and high school performers for concerts and master classes.

Working with the students of the Rock Chalk Revue, which was performed in Hoch Auditorium before the structure was gutted by a June fire, Gailey said he discovered a surprising depth of talent at KU.

"I was really excited by the talent among the participants,'' he said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm. They devote months of work on the show. Basically they're starting now (in June) and they have auditions in November, and they're very enthusiastic about rehearsing.''

One of his goals is to spread the knowledge of jazz to future music educators, he said.

"MUSIC EDUCATION majors should have some exposure to jazz," he said. "It's always cited as the only American art form for music, but it is really important as a part of our heritage. Also, for education majors, at least three-quarters of them will have some sort of jazz program where they teach. It's important they get exposed to jazz on the college level.''

For students who want to become professional jazz musicians, Gailey said he recommends they diversify as much as possible. But he sees a lot of opportunities for those who want to pursue jazz as a career.

"I think there are possibly more professional jobs for jazz musicians out there than there are for classical musicians," he said. "I think a lot of people get discouraged by the old idea of starving jazz artists. But I know quite a few people in Kansas City who make their livings playing in jazz groups at night.''

IN THE broad spectrum of jazz, Gailey said he places himself more toward fusion and big-band styles. He's been influenced by saxophone player Michael Brecker, and he has a poster of John Coltrane in his office.

He sees jazz as entering a period of revival, with younger artists, such as the Marsalis brothers, emerging as big box-office draws.

"There's a whole new acoustical sound," Gailey said. "Younger players have re-embraced acoustical concepts. They're taking all the ideas of fusion and applying them to acoustical instruments.''

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