In a genre swarming with the huge, indelible names of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, it seems difficult enough to make a mark, or even to gather passing recognition and appreciation.
But for the Fort Wayne jazz group Free Time Trio, that challenge is well on its way to being overcome. The trio, featuring pianist Dave Holloway, bassist Andrew Kratzat and drummer Ben Sloan, has already made impressive headway - especially for high school kids. The trio members, who are 16- and 17-year-olds at Snider High School, are well-respected in the Fort Wayne jazz scene.
They also have begun to make some noise nationally. Downbeat Magazine - one of the genre's premier publications - named the band "Best High School Jazz Combo in the U.S. and Canada" in 2000.
The band's first album, All The Things You Are, found its way to a record exec at Blue Note Records, one of jazz's best-known labels, said Matt Schiebel, the band's mentor, roadie, manager and friend. Although the exec did not offer the band a record deal, Schiebel said he listened to the album and called the group back to encourage them to send more material.
The band is putting the final touches on a second album, recorded at Monastic Chambers studio in Fort Wayne. The untitled 14-track album is a conglomeration of traditional jazz standards, covers of Radiohead and Neil Young songs and six of the band's originals, which reflects the new direction Free Time are heading in, Schiebel said.
"The new music blurs the boundaries between jazz and other forms," he said. "You have to listen to it a few times before the album concept reveals itself. It has evolved into a lot more personal music. It's a lot more raw and energetic. Some of it crosses into acid jazz."
The group formed when members Holloway and Kratzat were in seventh grade at Blackhawk Middle School. Schiebel, the band director at the school, encouraged the boys to form a combo and to start practicing together.
"It wasn't too difficult to recognize their talent," he said. Schiebel, who is also the president of the Fort Wayne Jazz Club, said the band's music has evolved over time. He said they began playing jazz standards and gradually "took those standards and incorporated them into their own musical preferences."
He said the band "doesn't necessarily play standards exactly as the majority of people would."
"I think it's great for myself," Holloway said of the band. "Music is an escape. I can be engulfed in the music. The band has a connection too."
Holloway said he got started with the band because he thought it would be fun. Looking at what it has become, "it ended up being the greatest thing of my life," he said.
Holloway thinks of jazz as "almost like the ultimate form of music." He does not think the suggestion that the genre is geared toward an older, more mature crowd is either true or accurate.
"People like to see that we're carrying on the tradition," he said. "They like the way we explore some styles."
Schiebel agreed that jazz fans in the area were generally accepting of younger players.
"The jazz community around town has been really good about mentoring them," he said. "A lot of the professionals have taken them in and given them advice. The boys have played with and sat in with many of the jazz groups and players in Fort Wayne. People who play jazz are a little more accepting of other people and new ideas. I don't think the jazz scene is as cutthroat as the rock scene in town."
Schiebel said that although much of the current music is geared toward a younger audience, Free Time Trio are still able to reach their peers and turn them onto different styles of music.
The band is booked once a month at the Firefly Café and at the Anchor Room Bookstore through May.
At these shows they have the opportunity to play their original songs and to be "a lot more experimental," Schiebel said. He added that the band is "trying to cross boundaries."
"They are trying to expand into more soul and hip-hop rhythms. And, the other night, they played The Doors," he said.
Interestingly, Holloway said he wrote one of the songs on the album, "True Existence," after listening to The Doors. As Jim Morrison did in "The Unknown Soldier" and "The End," Holloway reads poetry during one part.
"I thought it would give it a different variety. The whole theme of the song has to do with the number seven," Holloway said.
In addition to the band's regular gigs at coffee houses, they also have played private shows and corporate shows for Ivy Tech State College and the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, among others. Although the band is fairly well compensated for these gigs, Holloway said he would rather play the coffeehouse shows.
"A lot of times, it seems like people don't listen to you," he said of the private shows. "I feel like I have something more to say when people are listening to me."
Next fall, Holloway and Kratzat will head off to college. Neither has chosen a school yet. Sloan has another year at Snider. Holloway thought the band would still be together even though the members might be scattered across the state. He said they would continue to play and practice during the summer and possibly on weekends.
Free Time Trio has four mp3s available for download at www.mp3.com/freetimetrio. All The Things You Are is available at Wooden Nickel Music stores and at Borders Books and Music.
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