On February 4, Jack Magee's pub will be alive with the combined sounds of hip-hop and jazz. Bowdoin pianist Hassan Muhammad '10 will be performing with Chaz Lester, a drummer/beatboxer/vocalist from the University of Maine at Augusta.
Though the pair have been working and performing together for two years, this will be their first time performing together at Bowdoin officially. Justin Foster '11will also provide vocals for portions of what promises to be a danceable performance in a style best described as "groovy hip-hop jazz."
Central to Muhammad and Lester's music is the fact that each song evolves in the moment as the duo practices the art of improvisation. This improvisation, Muhammad explained, is not the result of "ill- preparation" but, rather, another form of discipline. As an accomplished improviser, Hassan has a deep passion for "music of the moment," music that depends on the fact that the "musicians, the audience, the air is circumstantial."
Muhammad celebrates "listening" as the key to improvisational success.
"This music lives and breathes—is beautiful—insofar as people listen to each other."
Chaz Lester shares this same perspective, and their music resonates because of the trust this recognition brings and the knowledge that "the whole" of a performance is infinitely more significant than the individual contributions of the musicians involved.
Listening is central to Muhammad's solo performances as well. He asserted that, even as a solo artist, a musician must truly listen in order to be united with his desires and his surroundings. This requires him to "get out of his own way."
The best music, according to Muhammad, is transcendental: dissolving the barrier between the musician and the world. "When I'm inspired I'm not Hassan," he said. The times of highest musical experience "are the times when the musician is the instrument of the music."
Improvisation allows each succeeding moment the potential to reach the pinnacle of musical experience, a pleasure to both the musician and the audience.
Nothing is outlined, nothing predisposed. For Muhammad, improvisation has had a profound effect on his life outside of the musical discipline. He believes that people should take part in improvisation in any and all its forms (music, comedy, even conversation) for what it teaches us: "to be present in the present, to appreciate the moment, to listen, and to be comfortable despite not knowing how the song will end, despite an uncertain future."
Though Muhammad's final semester is, appropriately, uncertain, he intends to explore the points of similarity between jazz and hip-hop. His goal is, as ever, to improve as an improviser and a listener.
When asked where he draws his inspiration from, Hassan credits the extremes of the human experience: the beautiful as well as the ugly and tragic. He also credits music itself and artists as varied as Terrance Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, Chopin and Prince. Though he has ten performances in place for the spring, he expects an equal number of performance opportunities to arise throughout the semester.
Muhammad, Lester and Foster will perform Thursday, February 4 in Jack Magee's Pub from 10:45 p.m.-1 a.m.