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College of Arts and Sciences

Living legends to play Bailey Hall April 15

By: Deborah Justice,  Department of Music
April 1, 2019

Dr. Deborah Justice, Cornell Concert Series manager, shares the story behind the upcoming "Spring Quartet" April 15 concert, 8 pm in Bailey Hall:

On April 15, Cornell Concert Series presents “The Spring Quartet,” a jazz super-group made up of living legends Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, and Leo Genovese. Aside from this being a once-in-a-lifetime line-up of the greats playing together, this concert will be very special because of the double bass that Esperanza will be playing. There is a bittersweet local tie-in that runs centrally to the history of jazz.

In the 1960s, Scott LaFaro was the hottest bass player around. His family moved to Geneva, New York when he was five and he spent a lot of time grooming his chops in the Finger Lakes. He hit it big when he was basically “just a kid” who had just emerged from Ithaca College, but he was so good that he was playing with the best players: he held down rhythm with the Bill Stewart Trio, played the Village Vanguard, accompanied Stan Getz at the Newport Jazz Fest…. LaFaro was in crazy demand…too much demand. Tragically, driving between gigs from Geneva and Canadaigua on the night of July 6, 1961, he fell asleep at the wheel. The accident killed him, and almost destroyed his bass.

Almost…

Everyone around Scott LaFaro was so destroyed by his untimely death that they were in shock. Someone took the damaged bass and locked it away -- until the 1980s. The bass, made by Abraham Prescott of Concord, New Hampshire in 1825, was taken out of storage and lovingly restored. The instrument itself is nearly as unique as LaFaro’s playing of it. This treasure is housed with the International Society of Bassists, the president of which is Ithaca College’s professor Nicholas Walker. 

Esperanza Spalding playing her instrumentWhen it became clear that Esperanza Spalding would need to borrow a bass for her April 15 engagement at Cornell, the LaFaro bass was an obvious choice. Uniting one of the best contemporary bassists today with an instrument from one of the best bassist of the past would make this concert an extra-special musical and historical event. 

The bass itself has been restored to perfection, with deep, rich tones. Esperanza’s playing will bring out the instrument’s complex layers and history better than anyone could imagine. It’s not often that a concert can bring layers of local history to light in this way. This will be a special night that no true jazz fan should miss.

Images: 

Scott LaFaro with his bass at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival. Credit: Jim Marshall

Esperanza Spalding at Portland Jazz Festival. Credit: Ross William Hamilton/The Oregonian

 Scott LaFaro playing his bass

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