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Performing Jazz With Industry Professionals

A Discussion With Master's Student Varun Chandrasekhar
February 26, 2020

This weekend, students will get the chance to perform alongside professional jazz saxophonist Dave Pietro in the annual University of Minnesota Jazz Festival. Student Varun Chandrasekhar, (music theory and guitar) sat down with us to discuss the upcoming performance and more about his day to day life at the School of Music.

Tell us about yourself.

VC: My name is Varun Chandrasekhar, I’m a master’s of music theory student, I’m a guitarist and I primarily play jazz. I am currently playing in the “10:10” jazz combo under the direction of Phil Hey. In the past, I have played, arranged and conducted for the Jazz 1 Big Band. I also gig regularly on the side with my own jazz combos and sub for local rock bands.

Why are you excited to play with Dave Pietro?

VC: The more I listen to him the more I notice his effortless ability to fly through complex jazz idioms without ever getting bogged down. Getting to play with musicians of this caliber is always a treat.

What are you going to be playing with Dave Pietro?

VC: We’re playing an arrangement of “Don’t Blame Me” that I did, it’s a reharmonized version that we’re giving a Latin twist to, and I’m excited to hear how it sounds in its final form. Then we will be doing a version of “Oleo,” the classic Sonny Rollins rhythm changes tune. It’s always a great tune to show your ability to strut, it’s fast, it’s rhythm changes so you have an opportunity to demonstrate your learned vocabulary. Finally, we’re going to play one of Dave’s tunes called Now Becoming Then, this tune is really great. It has these dense harmonies and winding chord changes that you don’t think are going to work out but then they work out in the end. These are all really going to be fun tunes to play.

What else are you working on at the School of Music? 

VC: Right now I am working on an essay that seeks to explain how lyric videos embody music and create musical meaning. We have a natural tendency to think of music as having physical special properties, despite the fact that music is rarely tangible in the metaphoric ways we describe it as being. To see how these videos confront this paradox provides a new way to try and get "inside" the music.

What is your favorite class this semester? 

VC: Currently, I am in Scott Currie’s Jazz and Modernism class. The class is based around working out how jazz demonstrates the crisis of art in the modern world. Jazz’s roots are partially from the Western folk, pop, and art traditions and these three sets of cultural aesthetics and practices are constantly at odds with one another. Since I care so deeply about jazz it is fascinating to see its cultural meaning broken down in such a complex way.

What surprised you about studying at the University of Minnesota? 

VC: I was shocked at how much I was able to study jazz at the U of M. Since the U of M doesn’t have a degree in jazz studies I was afraid I was not going to find any classes in the program to take. However, I ended up taking two classes that specifically dealt with jazz, a class on popular music, I have played in jazz ensembles during all four of my semesters here, and I got to work with Dean Sorenson individually to hone in my arranging and conducting chops. 

The Jazz Combos will perform on Friday, February 28 in Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall at 7 pm and Jazz Ensembles I & II will perform in Ted Mann Concert Hall on Saturday, February 29 at 7 pm.