Buzz- Local jazz artist hits the road, just a little bit wiser
It may seem more grade school than hardcore rock 'n' roll to combine music with philosophy, theory–- which is why some artists refuse to acknowledge academia as a role in their work. But for local jazz performer Gerrit Roessler, the application of one to the other is second nature.
"I've always gone the route of [making music] something that's applicable," he explains. "I studied music, but as a music teacher, not a performing artist, dabbled in musicology–- but never made the jump to full-time musician."
Yet as the artist, 32, now plans to pack his bags and leave Charlottesville with one last solo farewell performance, turning to music full-time is still not in the cards. Is he just not committed to the art of performing music? On the contrary. Roessler began performing music at the age of six, in the rigorous pre-school music education that his home country of Germany offered all students.
He focused his energy on formal jazz training for the piano and took off from there. Collaborating with artists in Germany and in Charlottesville, Roessler has been active on the local jazz scene, twisting his formal training with an emerging experimental electronic sound–- a jazz aesthetic he's begun to perfect in his solo show.
"Right now in contemporary jazz, there's a breaking down of boundaries–- it's not big band music, or the kind of jazz you hear on the Weather Channel," Roessler says. "There are very open forms that are governed by principles other than notated instruments, that I find very exciting."
Roessler's solo work is a cacophony of found sounds, electronic noise loops, and contemporary jazz melodies. His various Charlottesville gigs and collaborations have inspired him to combine a traditional jazz aesthetic with a hip, post-modern urge to make art applicable to everyday life. For Roessler, music is not merely a means to an end–- the process of creating and improvising itself is as much an artistic representation as the actual performance.
In his studies at UVA, Roessler consumes theory that asks large, scholarly questions: "How important is the artist? What is a novel? What does it have to do with our life? Why do we still read? What is a piece of art?" Yet instead of shelving these quandaries and using music as an escape, Roessler uses performance as another realm in which to explore these questions–- applying his book smarts to his musical endeavors.
"I regard teaching as performance also–- standing in front of a group of people and explaining things that are dear to my heart gives me the same rush I have after a show went really well," he explains. "You are creating something where you are at the same time the composer, performer, your own audience and it's something that will happen only for the duration of that performance."
If musical performance pulls from the same critical processes as teaching and scholarship, Roessler, now working on his dissertation with UVA, has had years of experience to back up his musical ambitions. His collaboration with local artists, such as Isa Leal, Daniel McCarty, David Cosper, and Eric Smith, has led him to hone his solo jazz project, one he will take with him to New York City, where he plans to record an album.
"I don't want to play background music–- it's a skill I don't have, when people request the jazz version of Lady Gaga and want it combined with the Wedding March on the spot," he says. "My life as a scholar, a jazz musician, my passion for avant garde forms, my passion as a listener, a reader–- all these personalities are not separate at all."