Laying down the rythmn

By Nick Fawell

By Nick Fawell

Staff writer

Having played drums for the late, great Ray Charles at festivals in Switzerland and Holland, assistant professor of jazz Dana Hall is no stranger to pressure.

“The rhythm has to be there,” Hall said. “And it has to feel a certain way for him (Charles) to do what he needs to do. And if it’s not there he knows it immediately.”

Hall, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been involved with music since he was four years old. In junior high school, due to competitiveness in the school band, Hall was forced to decide between music and basketball.

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    “So I chose basketball of course,” Hall said, laughing. “But I stuck with it (music). When I went to high school, I got more serious about playing music.”

    An accomplished jazz percussionist, Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in percussion performance from William Paterson College in New Jersey and a master’s in composition from DePaul University. He is currently working on a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago. Additionally, he is in the planning stages for his album, which will contain rearranged jazz versions of artists such as Radiohead and Bj”rk.

    Besides his teaching duties at the University, Hall frequently travels to New York and Chicago on the weekends to play with some of the best jazz musicians in the nation.

    Hall explained that one of the main steps in taking one’s playing to that next level is confidence in one’s skill. This is a step he took when touring with world-renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

    “I try not to feel like I don’t belong in a musical situation,” Hall said of touring with Marsalis. “I feel like I’m there because I’m in the club. I’m there because they want me to be there and it’s not like I should feel I’m given this shot. I’m there because I’m ready to deal with the music.”

    In addition to teaching, Hall is out in the jazz clubs, on tour, and in the studios constantly playing – which gives him added credibility in the eyes of his students.

    “He’s out there playing,” said Kyle Therriault, junior in FAA and a student of Hall’s. “He’s playing rather than just being in the academic world and teaching. I’m more willing to take his critiques because he can back it up with his playing.”

    Although he rarely gets rattled on stage, Hall admitted that his nerves were at an all-time high when he first performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, with whom he was a member from 1999 to 2004.

    “Every time I play at Carnegie, I’m nervous,” Hall said. “Just because it’s Carnegie Hall … you feel like you’re playing for an intelligent audience and it makes you nervous.”

    Whether it is his interaction with an intelligent audience or a group of musicians in the studio, Hall said his relations with people is one of the most appealing aspects of music for him.

    “There’s a social aspect to music that’s great,” Hall explained. “It’s just cool hanging out with like-minded people that are into the same thing. They’re involved with music. They’re coming out to hear music. They’re coming out to hear you.”

    Another facet of music that interests Hall is the difficulty and time it takes to create really interesting music. Hall explained that performing music is something that “requires great artistry” and in order to be successful, musicians must be devoted to improving and constantly refining their craft.

    This is the same message Hall imparts on his students.

    Andrew Dixon, sophomore in FAA and a student in Hall’s jazz listening and jazz history classes, said Hall’s dedication comes through in his expectations of his students.

    “He expects a lot out of you,” Dixon said. “He expects you to go beyond what you’d do in a normal class; extra listening, extra reading to understand jazz because it’s important to be able to conceptualize the music.”

    For Chris Baker, senior in FAA and another student of Hall’s, it is his free-flowing style of drumming that sets Hall apart from most other jazz drummers.

    “It’s the way his ideas come out when he’s playing,” Baker said. “He never has to stop and think about something before he does it. It just comes out.”

    Hall said that he believes that not everyone can be an artist, whether it is with music or any other kind of art. But, he said, it is the responsibility of those who have the skill to share it with the rest of the world.

    “People need arts in their lives,” Hall said. “Music is a refuge. When you feel bad, you throw some music on and it makes you feel good. It’s a way you can have an impact on other people’s lives in a positive way.”