Luther College Chips

Non-traditional recital a product of spontaneity

Guest performer JJ Kaufmann worked together with Adjunct Faculty in Music Jon Ailabouni to create a unique recital involving elements of improvisation.

Guest performer JJ Kaufmann worked together with Adjunct Faculty in Music Jon Ailabouni to create a unique recital involving elements of improvisation.

Cara Keith (‘21) | Chips

Cara Keith (‘21) | Chips

Guest performer JJ Kaufmann worked together with Adjunct Faculty in Music Jon Ailabouni to create a unique recital involving elements of improvisation.

Cara Keith, Staff Writer

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Adjunct Faculty in Music Jon Ailabouni and guest performer JJ Kaufmann entertained Luther College students with their unconventional jazz recital in the Orchestra Room on Oct. 11. Kaufmann performed on piano and Ailabouni performed on trumpet.

Ailabouni and Kaufmann’s recital was unique in that it had no set program. Instead, the two musicians learned 20 songs and chose which ones to play as they performed. This allowed them to create a program that matched the mood of the audience.

Kaufmann moved to Decorah about two years ago. Ailabouni and Kaufmann have played together since. The duo practice many different styles of music, from jazz to classical. Their recital was a culmination of their mutual partnership.

Attendee Evan Anderson (‘21) said he liked the unconventional element.

“I liked how they would let the music stop, and they wouldn’t force it,” Anderson said. “They would just feel the vibe of the room and go off each other. Usually it’s way more formulaic and you have to play it as written, but they were just going off each other’s cues.”

Ailabouni and Kaufmann learned more songs than needed for the recital because they wanted to spontaneously choose the key, groove, and tempo and then improvise new material based on these choices.

Ailabouni explained the intensive process of learning each potential song in preparation for the recital.

“Once we had selected our twenty or so tunes, we learned all of these in all 12 keys,” Ailabouni said. “Then we practiced them in different meters, so if one was usually in 4/4, we’d try it in 3/4 or 5/4. We also practiced different ways of playing with each other, so maybe I would accompany JJ instead of him accompanying me all the time, or we would do unaccompanied pieces where I would play a tune unaccompanied and he’d play a tune unaccompanied.”

Cara Keith (‘21) | Chips
Adjunct Faculty in Music Jon Ailabouni practiced playing a trumpet accompaniment while guest performer JJ Kaufman soloed on piano.

The recital took place in the Orchestra Room rather than the Noble Recital Hall, which is the typical venue for recitals. According to Ailabouni, this room provided better acoustics for the show and created an intimate space for the performers and their audience members.

Although the recital was non-traditional in many ways, Ailabouni said that parts of it remained traditional.
“It was traditional in the sense that the expectation was that people are listening attentively and not talking during the performance,” Ailabouni said. “I think that’s typical conventions for the Noble Recital Hall.”

At the beginning of the recital, Kaufmann requested that the audience be nonverbal during the performance. Instead of speaking, Kaufmann encouraged the audience to clap, yell out, or moan.

The recital began with an improvised introduction by Kaufmann on piano. Without any verbal communication, Ailabouni then chose a song that fit with the introduction. Throughout the recital, either Kaufmann or Ailabouni would start a piece by playing a recognizable part of the song and the other would eventually join in. This technique allowed them to take turns controlling the repertoire performed.

Ailabouni and Kaufmann showcased jazz songs, including “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder, “Have You Met Miss Jones” by Richard Rodgers, and “Hey Now” by Red Garland.

Attendee Jacob Barsness (‘18) was impressed with the recital.

“My favorite part of the jazz show was how skillfully the two performers were able to interweave familiar tunes in an improvisatory fashion without any music,” said Barsness. “It’s truly impressive how such dedication to music can lead to the truly incredible performances we have on campus.”

The spontaneity of the recital allowed the musicians to improvise musical embellishments as well. During one song, Kaufmann accompanied his piano playing with singing, which Ailabouni said was not rehearsed beforehand. Kaufmann also sang directly into the body of the piano and created an echo effect that left the audience mesmerized.

In the future, Ailabouni wants to continue working with Kaufmann to prepare similar recitals. However, Ailabouni said that it would be impossible to play the exact same show again because of the spontaneity in their performance, making their recital truly one-of-a-kind.

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