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NIU Steelband to perform with Jazz Ensemble

Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010 9:58 a.m. CDT

Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis will come out “swinging” this week in their life’s mission to prove that the steelpan is about much more than Caribbean cruises.

Under the direction of Teague and Alexis, Northern Illinois University’s Steelband will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday with the NIU Jazz Ensemble. The free concert will take place in the Duke Ellington Ballroom at the Holmes Student Center.

NIU School of Music alumnus Sune Borregaard has contributed two original works – “The Blue Pan” and “April” – composed specifically to mix pan with jazz. Borregaard also has arranged “Nardis” by Miles Davis and “Manteca” by Dizzy Gillespie for the combination.

Both groups also will perform traditional pieces alone.

“Cliff and I have always been interested in showing the versatility of the instrument, so we spoke to Ron Carter about the possibility,” Teague said in a recent news release. “Working with Ron has been a joy because he understands the language of jazz and can translate that much better to the students.

“We’re also lucky that Sune had written some arrangements for steelpan and big band – there aren’t many out there.”

Carter, director of jazz studies at NIU and conductor of the NIU Jazz Ensemble, said the collaboration “takes both groups outside of what their normal sounds are.”

“We’re getting used to the acoustics of the pan and how it mixes with the jazz band,” said Carter, whose group also is preparing for an April 8 ballroom performance with jazz drummer Lewis Nash.

“We had to adjust some articulations and certain phrasing because of the sound of the acoustic pans themselves, they don’t have as much control over the vibration of the sounds as horn players do,” Carter said. “They’re not as vocally precise as wind instruments.”

Although the steelband mostly will provide accompaniment during the combined pieces, Teague said, the pannists are enjoying the challenge of the different rhythms. There also is room for the steelband musicians to improvise solos and background sounds.

Carter is intrigued by another characteristic of Borregaard’s charts.

“He studied jazz here,” Carter said in the release. “He knows jazz. But he’s from Denmark, which has a whole different concept of the American jazz language, period. With Liam knowing the pan language quite well, and me knowing the jazz language quite well, it’s been easy to make them compatible and make it all work.”

“What makes it very exciting for me is that this concert is being streamed online so that the whole world will have a chance to hear this,” Teague said in the release.

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