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Joyful improvisation

Steve Charles—It’s not every day that a jazz Hall of Famer hears college kids play and instantly asks them to sit in with his band.

Especially not in Crawfordsville.

But that’s what happened Wednesday at the spring concert of Wamidan, the College’s world music ensemble. (Click here and here for photos from the concert.)

Indiana Jazz Hall of Famer Larry Clark’s group, Profile Unlimited—which also features jazz masters Frank Smith and Peter Kienle—was the guest act for the evening. Arriving early to set up, they caught part of Wamidan’s final run-through. Clark was especially impressed with the drumming—so impressed that he invited Bernard Meyer ’08, Taz Ahmed ’07, Teye Morton ’08. and Steve Hernandez ’08 to join his group for rehearsal. They then accompanied Profile Unlimited for the first two Afro-Cuban numbers of their set

“These drummers are amazing,” Clark told the Salter Hall audience later in the evening. “You don’t find drummers like this many places. You should be proud of them.”

The whole ensemble did us proud Wednesday night.

It was the final concert for four seniors—Crawfordsville High School’s Alix Hudson, whose is both an instrumentalist and a dancer; Fisayo Oluwadiya, co-founder of Wamidan’s musical partnership with Depauw and whose beautiful singing and spirited dancing have been highlights of Wamidan concerts for the past three years; James Boyd, a talented musician who has done practically everything for the group and was Wednesday night’s emcee; and Taz Ahmed, whose CD with his group, AJOB, was the number one CD in Taz’s home country of Bangladesh earlier this year.

That’s a lot of talent, and we’ll miss them next year.

But one of the highlights of Wednesday evening bodes well for next year’s edition of Wamidan. It came during the Honduran dance Steve Hernandez had introduced to the group. Teye Morton and Bernard Meyer were among the dancers in the piece. They’re great drummers, but less comfortable dancing (on stage, at least). But the Honduran dance needed them, so Bernard and Teye were good sports about it and helped out.

Still, I knew Teye wasn’t that happy about it.

So I was really surprised when he and Bernard broke into an improvised set of moves at the end of the piece. They had tall of us cheering them on.†It was the kind of spontaneity and teamwork we aim for in Wamidan, and it was especially rewarding to see these two students take that risk as dancers. They turned our performance into a party, and the improvisation kept coming throughout the night.

Much of the credit for the freedom they felt to experiment that night goes to visiting professor David Akombo, whose work with the ensemble concluded with this concert.

His last words to the group before the performance: "This is not a competition. Just go out there, relax, and enjoy yourselves."

But it’s also interesting that all this improvisation occurred on the night a Hall of Fame jazz player was in the house.

Helping Larry Clark set up his drums during the intermission, I asked him what he thought of what he’d seen and heard the first half of the concert.

“Beautiful,” he said. “Just beautiful."

In photos: (top right) Taz Ahmed enjoys his collaboration with Profile Unlimited; (lower left) Hall of Fame drummer Larry Clark.