A Quick Fix To A Problem

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“Jazz has been so dead for so long in so many different respects,” remarks David Slitzky, the drummer and producer of Skidmore-based Jazz trio Quick Fix, “that I think we can fill a certain void, and be labeled Jazz.”

       That’s the plan: to refresh Jazz in a modern, innovative, and progressive way, breaking away from the stubborn, decade-strong Jazz tradition that has been ingrained into the minds and fingers of these classically-trained musicians. Dave, Will, and Andrew are Jazz kids, wholeheartedly part of a sect of their generation that fawns over Thelonious Monk melodies and Jaco Pastorius bass lines; these are passionate kids, well-versed in an art that flourished before their time, an art that few their age know anything about. What makes Quick Fix and their contemporaries such dynamic Jazz artists are their far-reaching influences, with the ability to pull from and comfortably balance Hip Hop drum parts, psychedelic Rock synth work, electronic sampling, and Funk-induced bass lines. They’re not tied down by the parameters of their classic genre, but rather, they embrace the ability to meld modern technology and music theory with that of the Jazz greats.

       In many respects, Jazz has gone stale, prevalent only in conservatories and far-beyond-their-prime nightclubs in Harlem. It’s casual restaurant music or subtly seeping out of elevator speakers, but it’s not the dance music it was in the 20s, it’s not the expansive big band swing music of the 30s and 40s, or the psychedelic, free-flowing, progressive art of the 60s. It’s a bit brash to say that Jazz is dead—it’s truly integral to the framework of everything from indie folk Rock to hardcore Hip Hop—but it has lost its cultural authority.

       Dave told me that balancing old and new world Jazz influences is one of the biggest struggles for modern Jazz musicians. He said one of his hopes for the soon to be released Quick Fix record is “to answer the question of how to combine acoustic and electronic sounds in an authentic way.” He admitted, “it’s a really complicated, personal question that I think a lot of other people are trying to answer.” What’s fascinating about this struggle for a musical balance is how effortless it looks in a live setting.  Andrew, the group’s pianist, flaunts this dichotomy with a virtuosic ease on “Aaron’s Song”—the third track on their second EP—, as he sits, perched on the edge of a piano bench, with his left hand fingering the keys of Skidmore’s oldest Steinway piano and his right fooling with his new Nord Electro keyboard, one of the highest quality portable keyboards on the market. Even while he’s making the cleanest of sounds on a legendary acoustic piano, he has a Pandora’s box of synths, samples, and electro-instruments at his disposal.

       The album’s cut of “Aaron’s Song” fools with electronic sounds more prominently than is possible live, with sprawling, unraveling electro-bass effects parading through the climax: a textural sound Will cheekily characterizes as “chewy.” The song tapers off after, lulled into Andrew’s stripped-down, pure piano part that hid underneath the melody the entire time, reminding the listener of the absolute authority a true piano still holds in the realm of Jazz music.

       I sat in while the trio practiced in Zankel’s small Jazz room just a few weeks away from their senior recital, and it was clear that “Aaron’s Song” was one of Dave’s favorites to play—a fact he never revealed to me in words but one which was unmistakably visible as he smirked through his unkempt facial hair, bouncing, unable to sit still behind the drum set. This restless joy’s a quality of Dave’s playing that’s known to fans of his funk band, Bo Peep and The Funk Sheep, because Dave will get a bit rapturous at concerts and try to stand up behind his set, forcing him to hit the drums at a truly awkward angle. He yearns to be the front man, interacting with the audience, just one time.  

       Quick Fix is quite literally a product of Bo Peep and The Funk Sheep, the 11-piece Funk band that Dave, Will, and Andrew play in. Bo Peep is their primary project: a lively, playful big band with one of the more methodical work ethics of any band on campus. They practice twice a week and have played at Falstaff’s, Putnam Den, Skidmore’s Fun Day, and the SGA-sponsored 100 Days Dance. Quick Fix actually developed after over half of Bo Peep flaked out of a Falstaff’s gig sophomore year and the three decided to perform as a trio instead. Talking over a pre-performance dinner of sandwiches at the local Legend’s Cafe, they decided to call themselves Quick Fix, because, well, that’s what they were: a quick fix to a problem.

        Sitting at drums, keyboard, and bass guitar, Quick Fix is at the heart of Bo Peep, just add a lead guitarist, and then seven horns—two trombones, three saxophones, and two trumpets—and you have the whole band. Bo Peep offers a casual setting to explore different musical avenues. They can play “Beer” by Reel Big Fish back-to-back with Outkast’s “Roses,” and then go straight into a slew of originals, ending their set with a classic like “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.” They’re versatile, cheerful, and spirited, often getting a whole crowd up and dancing for the entirety of their set. Bo Peep is a musical playground for Dave, Will and Andrew, but Quick Fix is a pre-professional endeavor. In a few short months they will be sending their Quick Fix work to potential employers looking for jobs as studio musicians, stage band sit-ins, and audio engineers in recording studios.

       Quick Fix is a more serious project than Bo Peep, more calculated. After that first Falstaff’s show, Dave, Will, and Andrew continued to practice together until Spring 2013 when they created their first EP, Tuxedo Tee, recorded almost exclusively in Skidmore’s coveted Filene Concert Hall in Zankel. Dave flatly admitted it was simply an excuse to “make a record of all the songs that we wish we could play with people, but people don’t like to play, but we like to play.”

       Tuxedo Tee consists primarily of reconfigured renditions of classic Jazz standards like Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia,” John Carisi’s “Israel,” and Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil.” In contrast, the group’s newest, yet-to-be titled album is filled out with originals, save for Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’s “Pure Imagination” and a slight nod at Billy Joel’s song “The Stranger.” This album is a lot more willful than their debut, it needs to be, as it’s not just the band’s second studio album but Dave’s senior thesis as a self-determined music production major, and a key facet of Will and Andrew’s senior recital. The trio’s first official show will actually be their collaborative senior recital, something rarely allowed in the Skidmore Music Department.

       They’ve all been involved in the Skidmore Music Department for the entirety of their years at Skidmore, but all through different channels. Dave began his freshman year as a wide-eyed Psychology major. There’s even a First Year Experience promotion video that features young Dave proclaiming to be overjoyed that he was enrolled in his first choice freshman seminar course centered around perception because he “liked psychology and music, psychology a little more.” The video has become an embarrassment, and a timeless joke amongst his friend group. But all that changed when he started taking music courses and exploring the depths of Zankel. By first semester sophomore year he was filing the necessary paperwork to make his own major: music production and engineering.

       Will is a Music and English double major. He’s well versed in medieval literature and is currently finishing a compilation of poetry as his senior capstone. A lot of his recent poetry work is focused around the tension of what it means to be a white American man in the 21 century playing Jazz music. He’s known to be daring too, and rather explicit in his metaphors, at one time citing the regeneration of Jazz as being like a vulture picking at dead road kill. That poem has since been cut from his portfolio, but he has included “Catsitting,” a charming little four-stanza poem playing on the idea of a Jazz cat. In the poem, Will is babysitting the greats: Charlie Parker (Bird, ruling the roost,/ yawns and chatters his/ whiskers,/ setting his head on his paws.), Miles Davis (Miles/ is plowing the mantelpiece/ with pointed purpose.), Dizzy Gillespie (Dizzy claws at the sofa,/ ripping the suede trim to bits.), and more. He is acutely aware of the fact that this is not his culture, but one that has been appropriated and re-appropriated time and time again by white American mainstream culture. Will’s, as well as Dave’s and Andrew’s, involvement in Jazz is a direct product of that appropriation, and that’s important to be conscious of.

       Andrew is the most reserved of the three, and the least expressive during performances. Dave will smirks or, if he’s really feeling what he’s playing, make a stink face, as if he just smelled something wretched. Will tightens his forehead, angles his eyebrows, and puckers his lips as if he’s weeping during a strong bass note. But Andrew stays stone-faced during much of his playing. He’s calm and collected at the keys. He is undoubtedly one of Skidmore most talented Classical and Jazz pianists.

       Because Quick Fix, and their EP, are academic undertakings, the three have been forced to put more effort into arranging, charting, and composing than they normally would for a personal, albeit pre-professional project. Like every other music major planning for their senior recital, Dave, Will, and Andrew all have individual coaches—professional musicians and professors at Skidmore—whose particular strengths match with each one’s instrument and style. This array of opinions and disciplines have given the band and their recorded work a more dynamic sound; it has helped them create a unique perspective of their music as the three can create independently, together, and then share what they’ve done with their teachers, getting three very musically different opinions.  

   After four years of performing, practicing, and learning together, Dave, Will, and Andrew can communicate sonically on a level that makes their tenure together blatantly evident. They sense each other’s melodic presence more naturally then you would assume of a group of 21-year-olds. The ease of their collaboration becomes utterly evident as I watched the trio in the back hall of the basement floor of Zankel practice “Three Views of a Secret,” an intricately crafted Jaco Pastorius track from 1981. This is where their classic chops come in play. Dave keeps time but the melody’s fluid, playfully traded between keyboard and bass; a small ear-catching element that the two share, keeping the song afloat so gently, so simply.

       They really experimented with the raw emotions of just playing when developing songs for their EP. The three went to Will’s parent’s place in Southern Vermont for a week in January to create. They were nestled in the wintry woods with the singular objective of making music. They’d record morning sessions before breakfast, before they even spoke a word to each other. “Throughout the day we’d be referencing those jams that we had kind of spontaneously and pick things we liked,” Dave recalls. They’d play all day, from sun up to sun down, sometimes starting with ideas and sometimes just playing off each other. “Lullaby,” the second to last track on their forthcoming EP, is a perfect product of a late-night Vermont jam session. Dave explains the scene as some dark, drunken, metaphysical trance. “Like we had no lights on. I think I was just in my boxers at that point. They were a little stoned and I was definitely a little drunk and it was—I just don’t even know how it happened—this swaying motion that came in.” They revisited the recording when back in civilization and “Andrew took it and wrote a couple melodies that fleshed it out but,” as Dave proudly concludes, “it still had the same basic vibe and energy—that gut feeling I originally had when we played it, which was awesome.”         This is an old-style jazz trope, I guess, allowing alcohol and drugs to smooth the creative process, generating fresh melodies uninhibited. Though “Lullaby,” too, is a great example of Quick Fix’s generational Jazz fusion because of the production element layered later in the studio. So much of the track is built on a sweet, prancing piano melody—slight-of-hand piano work that matures into an ornate, scrambling piano solo that ascends to a clear, vast summit. Subtle whispers of wind are palpable if you listening carefully around the three minute mark. Dave also added deep, verbose 808s to fire at the climax, giving more clout to Andrew’s rise. It’s a more meticulous, nuanced addition to the sound than the heavy synth parts on earlier tracks like “The Ballad of Pierre Lefoue,” but it bolsters the music nonetheless.  

       Quick Fix sees themselves as wholly part of a new generation of Jazz. They’re part of a movement away from the swing style of playing that dominated much of the 20th century. But they’re also independent of the modern Jazz era: what began in the 60s and has since progressed into self-indulgent 20-minute solos and hour-long songs. But that doesn’t resonate with Dave. It’s what he refers to as the “bullshit” of Jazz. And he wants to move away from that. He “wants something that’s tight and has room to expand. [He] wants there to be arrangement. [He] wants there to be less bullshit.”

       When I asked Dave who he sees currently progressing the genre of Jazz and participating in the development of this electro-acoustic harmony, he sited BadBadNotGood (BBNG) without hesitation. BBNG is a Toronto-based, post-bop trio that met and began making music at Humber College in 2010. They have two self-titled projects out and have collaborated with Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Frank Ocean. They’re known for deconstructing Hip Hop songs by isolating the original samples and flipping those into their own free Jazz-style remixes. While they have been rather successful (BadBadNotGood was the band-in-residence at the Coachella Music Festival in 2012), Dave sees Quick Fix’s music as comparable, and in a way, interdependent. He examines BadBadNotGood’s music as if it were scientific research, searching for the key to revitalizing Jazz. He’s experimenting in a similar field, looking for the same answer, and so he takes what they’ve done and challenges himself to build upon it and discover something new.

       Dave’s goals may be lofty but they aren’t unfounded. Quick Fix consists of three of the most talented musicians currently enrolled in Skidmore’s nascent music department, and participating in the wider Skidmore music scene. They have the training, intuition, and ambition to create dynamic, tight, genre-bending music. They are yet another set of researchers in a young, budding, transnational movement. Quick Fix is proof that the frayed, nearly forgotten Jazz genre of decades ago is alive, well, and still kicking.  

 

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