May 25, 2019 | 69° F

Raycraft revives New Brunswick jazz culture

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In the basement of the George Street Ale House, both the eyes and the ears of audience members were glued to the perfectly in-sync Danny Raycraft Band on Tuesday night. 

With a backdrop of a brown wall and a painted red ceiling, there was nothing extraordinary about the stage. While the dim lighting of the venue certainly set the mood, it was the spotlight that shone on the bassist Vince Dupont's hand on his bass guitar that illuminated the quartet’s performance. 

The show was presented by the New Brunswick Jazz Project, a non-profit organization with a mission to revive an underappreciated form of music in a community that was once defined by it. 

“The appreciation (for jazz) is lost these days and we’re trying to bring it back,” the co-founder of the Jazz Project, Jimmy Lenihan said.

While apparently a dying form of art, the Danny Raycraft Band brought New Brunswick’s favorite genre back to life. The quartet started off their set with an original composition inspired by the blues, where every member of the band showed off their individual talents. 

“The best thing about jazz is that everyone gets a turn to play a solo,” saxophonist Danny Raycraft said. “So when we’re playing, we get to do the group thing, but everyone also gets space for individual expression.” 

Raycraft’s execution of the sax acted as lyrics to the instrumentals and each song told a story without the help of lyrics. Despite the limitations of innovation or alteration to original jazz as compared to pop music, none of the band’s music sounded repetitive. 

The artists played their instruments in sync almost effortlessly, translating a familiarity among the members and the mastery of their respective instruments. The live music was delivered with unmistakable passion, an irreplaceable quality that digital recordings lack. 

The set included a wide range of compositions. Some were inspired by famous works including Ella Fitzgerald’s classic song “Love for Sale” and Mulgrew Miller’s “Farewell to Dogma.” One song that was particularly touching was inspired by Raycraft’s former teacher, Cedar Walton, who recently died.

A lifelong fan of jazz, Raycraft believes that the genre is unique because it is an improvisation on standard compositions that highlight the genre’s ability to embrace the classic and inspire self-expression. As jazz was an underground movement that started in America, Raycraft also noted that the quality and complexity of the genre remains to be underappreciated. 

The performance ended with an open jam session where the band encouraged any talented musicians in the audience to play along with them. 

Through his passion for jazz, Raycraft has been able to meet talents young and old, an opportunity he realizes would not have been possible had he not thrown himself into the scene. With jazz, Raycraft said, there are so many configurations to experiment with, and it’s a craft that you can never stop learning. 

“There’s no point where you’re good enough, and that’s only more incentive to play better and grow."

Malaika Jawed

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