Courtesy of Cornell University

October 3, 2018

A Jazzy Night at Barnes Hall

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Barnes Hall’s auditorium temporarily transformed into a jazz cafe from La La Land on the evening of Thursday, September 27. Producing a fusion of harmonious tones and fascinating improvisation, the Dave Solazzo Trio, with Dave Solazzo on the piano, Mike Solazzo (Dave’s father) playing bass and Tom Killian on the drums, performed a jazz concert that reminded me of the Oscar-winning film.

The program started with Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” The piece opened with a piano melody, but was quickly joined by the metallic sound of the cymbals on the drum set and supported by a steady beat of deep pizzicatos from the bass. As the tempo of the song sped up or slowed down based on the discretion of whoever was playing the melody, the other members of the trio would match the beat accordingly with extreme precision. This first tune also incorporated solos for both the bassist as well as the drummer, during which the musicians constantly checked in with each other through eye contact and head nods to maintain balance and structured harmony. Dave Solazzo mentioned in an interview with me that the group has “worked a lot as a trio in the last two or three years” and he thinks their “interactive, collective improv is great” — the chemistry between the musicians through their moments of unspoken communication was evident.

Transitioning from the opening number, the trio continued to perform various jazz compositions, including Victor Young’s “Love Letters,” Monty Alexander’s “Renewal” and “I Hear a Rhapsody” by Jack Baker, George Fragos and Dick Gasparre. Each of these arrangements were executed with unique embellishments to the melody and incorporated the interpretations of each musician. Each member would add their own twist to the music, framing the direction in which the piece would eventually progress. When asked about how he first learned to improvise, Dave Solazzo stated, “I learned in a way where I didn’t really have a fear of it [and] just sort of dove right into it.”  He regards improvisation as something that “is just perfectly natural for people to do.”

The fifth piece performed was an original composition, “Waltz in C,” composed by Dave Solazzo. This waltz repeated a distinct, light and happy phrase in the melody numerous times throughout the piece, encouraging the audience to bob their heads, sway in their seats or tap their hands in their laps to the beat.

Following the waltz, the trio played the mellow and melancholic “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael. While not the most upbeat tune, the rendition of “Skylark” created a tranquil and sentimental vibe in the hall, captivating the audience’s attention. The following piece, “Solar” by Miles Davis, opened featuring a solo of Killian on the drums, revealing all the distinct sounds that each component of the drum set can produce. The high energy emanating from the drum solo in this piece paralleled that of a marching band at a football game — an energy maintained even after the drum solo ended and the piano and bass parts were introduced.

The concert concluded with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Triste” and Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” which included a solo for each of the parts. During the solos, the members of the trio who were accompanying or not playing at all would attentively watch the soloist to see how they could incorporate their own parts back into the piece once the solo was over. Both the members of the trio and the audience were able to discover together how each improvised part impacted the song as a whole.

Throughout the concert, the performers created a lively atmosphere, not just through the notes they played, but through their passion for the music. It was clear through the smiles the members of the trio occasionally gave each other that they deeply love jazz. Dave Solazzo explained that there is “a lot of creative leeway” with jazz and “you could really make the music personal and play your own thing.” Although he started playing piano by learning classical music, when he began learning jazz, he “really felt like that was a dream.”

In addition to performing concerts, Dave Solazzo is in his second semester teaching jazz piano on Tuesdays at Cornell University. “It’s been a great experience,” he said. “All the students I’ve worked with have been really motivated.”

For more information on Dave Solazzo, the trio and upcoming events, visit


Julia Kim is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]