Concert features new jazz studies director

Kicking off the Faculty Artist Concert Series at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 12 at the University of Indianapolis was new Director of Jazz Studies Mark O’Connor. Alongside O’Connor playing the tenor saxophone were pianist Steven Jones, bassist Nick Tucker and percussionist Kenny Phelps,  who kept the group together during works composed by Johnny Griffin, Brooks Bowman, Billy Strayhorn, Antonio Carlos Jobim and O’Connor himself.

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O’Connor performs in Ruth Lilly Performance Hall of Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center on Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Photo by Morgan Ellis
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Steven Jones, Nick Tucker and Kenny Phelps play together in “Jazz Standards Concert” with new Jazz Studies Director, Mark O’Connor. Photo by Morgan Ellis

O’Connor received his master’s degree in 1996 and recently finished his doctor of musical arts degree in jazz performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to O’Connor, he has been a part of the Chicago and Milwaukee music scenes since 1996 as a performer, composer and educator. Jazz for O’Connor began when he was in eighth grade and found that the improvisation of the genre was what drew him to want to study it  so closely.

“Improvisation is at the heart of the style,” O’Connor said. “When you learn how to improvise, you learn to improvise not only in jazz but in life, and that’s the thing that when you learn how to do that, it’s so applicable to so many different things. Plus, it’s fun just like goals [in life].”

Featured on a table outside Ruth Lilly Performance Hall were two of O’Connor’s CDs for sale: “Mirage” (2003) and “Suspended Reality” (2011). A collection of music from both of these albums were featured in the FACS including “Mirage,” “Blues for Ethan,” “Suspended Reality,” “A Monk’s Dream” and “Quiet Snow.”

“Suspended Reality,” O’Connor’s most recent work, was released in Chicago with musicians from Chicago in 2011.

“The title comes from when music is really great, it does in fact suspend reality. It’s that kind of takes-you-away-from-everyday-kind-of-drudgery,” O’Connor said. “I spend a lot of time with my CDs. I don’t let something out of the door that I’m not absolutely proud of.”

Senior general music major Ron Dukes attended Monday night’s FACS to see O’Connor in action on stage.

“I’m currently taking a jazz and improvisation class from him [O’Connor], and he had mentioned several times the concert and I really wanted to attend anyway. I recognized a few familiar faces in the rhythm section who play around the city of Indianapolis as well as the University of Indianapolis, so it was cool to see all of them,” Dukes said.

While O’Connor is excited to teach his “hungry for knowledge” students at UIndy, Dukes is looking forward to seeing what O’Connor brings to the table in the classroom as well as the performance hall.

“He’s a real down-to-earth guy, but a genius at the same time. It’s cool to see him perform but also pick his brain by being in a course that he’s teaching currently,” Dukes said. “It’ll be exciting to see what else he brings to UIndy Faculty.”

The next Faculty Artist Concert Series is Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. featuring Tamara Thweat on flute, Gregory Martin on piano, Dean Franke on violin, Susan Chan on viola, Marko Petričić on bayan, Nemanja Ostojić on guitar, Pamela French on oboe and Thomas Gerber on harpsichord in “Dynamic Duos”– a collaboration  concert  between faculty and guests  performing music from the 18th to the 20th centuries.