Portrait of an Artist: Chase E. Morrin ’15 and Kevin Sun ’14

Jazz musicians Chase E. Morrin ’15 and Kevin Sun ’14 discuss their interpretations of Thelonious Monk classics

Last Wednesday, jazz musicians Chase E. Morrin ’15 and Kevin Sun ’14, a Crimson magazine editor, presented their take on the music of Thelonious Monk in the Winthrop Junior Common Room. Morrin, on piano, and Sun, on tenor sax—both of whom are part of the Harvard/New England Conservatory of Music Joint Program—put together the concert as a first step in a broader plan to bring Harvard and NEC musicians together. Emphasising a democratic and spontaneous playing style, the pair aimed to approach Monk classics like “Straight, No Chaser” and “’Round Midnight” with a fresh angle.

The Harvard Crimson: It’s clear from hearing you guys play that you aren’t just jamming on top of a couple of Monk tunes—you seem to have really come up with a new arrangement for most of these. What was your approach to coming up with new arrangements?

Kevin Sun: It’s funny that you say that we really clearly have arrangements. I think it might come off that way, but a lot of the time—especially for this particular concert, because we didn’t have that much time to rehearse—we’re sort of forced to come up with arrangements on the spot. I think creatively we agree on a few key points.

Chase E. Morrin: Yeah, we did a little bit of, just like—“Oh, ‘’Round Midnight,’ we’re going to do it à la Impressionistic.” That was pretty much it.

KS: And then from there, I think within that, there’s enough of a focus that the piece isn’t going to go all over the place. It won’t be discontinuous.

CEM: With two players, you can really do a lot. You don’t have to stick to a form, you don’t have to arrange things as you normally do for a group—you can let things happen. And since there are only two players, you’re connected. You can really make things happen on the spot.

KS: There’s an unbelievable amount of freedom, especially playing with Chase. Chase has huge ears. He will hear anything that someone else plays and then adapt to that. So it’s fun playing with Chase, because when we play one of these [tunes] that have been played who knows how many times, we can do something different every time. We can just change time signatures on a dime. We can change keys if we want—we can change almost anything, as long as we agree on it mutually, which we can because we’re only two people. With four people, making those mutual agreements is more clunky.

THC: So why did you choose Monk?

KS: Originally, the idea for having a concert in the first place [was that] we just wanted to play a duo concert, and we hadn’t decided what kind of music to play. This came out of the desire to have Harvard/NEC musicians come together more as a community, even though there are only a few of us. I’ve been talking to a professor in the Harvard Music Department, Ingrid Monson, about trying to get something off the ground in the future—sort of like an ensemble between Harvard and NEC with players from Harvard and teachers from NEC. I also had support from the Jazz Department head at NEC, Ken Schaphorst, and also the director of the jazz band here, Tom Everett.... When it came to deciding what kind of music, I think we arbitrarily chose Monk just because we both like playing Monk’s music.

CEM: Monk has such a distinct personality, that, you know, if you do a tribute to just a random person—Miles Davis, John Coltrane—I mean, they’re great people, that’s cool, but what you’re doing is pretty much saying, “Oh, here’s the standard bebop vocabulary.” Whereas Monk is really like—if you’re going to do a concert tribute to him, you’ve got to really get into him, which we’ve done to a degree.... I think with playing Monk in general, first of all...he pretty much defies the standard jazz [and] bebop vocabulary that he was part of...and so when you play his music, you always want to do something different.... If you do the same thing, there’s no point, because Monk did it better than anyone else could. But [we are] also trying to stay true to what he wanted to accomplish, the vibe that he creates with his pieces.... Trying to balance those two things is hard, but we thought it was a cool challenge to try.

THC: Anything else you guys would like to add?

KS: There will be another concert sometime in March. It might not be duo; we might get a bass player. This is just the first one.

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