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New Composers Collective Lays Down the Law at Bop Stop

Third Law CollectiveWhat’s the second-most exciting day in a composer’s life? The day of the first performance of a new piece, of course. So, what’s the most exciting day? The day of the second performance. World premieres are exciting, but many compositions are heard once and then disappear. A second performance confers a bit of staying power.

This is especially true in the concert music world, but composers of creative music in the Black American tradition face many of the same challenges in bringing their work to the stage. Enter The Third Law Collective, a gathering of local composer/players whose project to present and support new composition in northeast Ohio gets underway Jan. 26 at Bop Stop.

The location is a crucial piece in in bringing the plan together. Cleveland’s premier jazz venue gives the project instant credibility and the presence of Bop Stop director Bryan Kennard as a member of the collective is a strong show of institutional support.

It also helps that Third Law’s membership is practically a who’s who of the region’s most respected players. Joining flutist Kennard onstage for the inaugural performance will be Chris Coles, Howie Smith and Brad Wagner on saxophones, Jack Schantz on trumpet and flugelhorn and trombone player Mark Mauldin. The rhythm section is guitarist Dan Bruce, Anthony Fuoco on piano, bassist Aidan Plank and Dustin May on drums. A composer could hardly ask for a more accomplished band.

Both Kennard and Bruce returned to Cleveland after sojourns in other cities. Kennard was in Miami getting his doctorate and Bruce was a gigging musician on Chicago’s vibrant scene. Both musicians found a local scene that had evolved.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

“I feel like back in the day, people were just playing their gigs and going home,” Bruce said of the scene 20 years ago.” Now when I talk to people here, we’re all way more interested in building something that’s bigger than us, and it’s exciting.”

Kennard seconded the sentiment. “We have a lot of creative energy here in Northeast Ohio. “This ensemble grew out of [the] idea that we all want to create something together. We all want to support one another and see what we can do to support the next generation of younger musicians.”

Like the compositions the collective hopes to champion, the concept for Third Law came together over time. “Aidan has been talking about it since I moved back to town,” Bruce says. ”He’s a busy guy so it was hard for him to implement, but he got it going.”

Bryan Kennard
Bryan Kennard

As a composer with a freshly minted DMA degree, Kennard came into the early discussions that also included Coles, Smith and Wagner. “Being able to connect with other musicians and write for them and continue to stretch my own writing was exactly what I was looking for at the time,” he says. “When the opportunity to take over Bop Stop came along, one of the first things I thought of serving as sort of a spokesperson for the writing community.”

An early version of the Collective debuted at Bop Stop in September 2021, but there was broad agreement that in order to be successful, Third Law needed to present works on a consistent basis. “When the opportunity to take over Bop Stop came along,” Kennard says, “one of the first things I thought of was serving as sort of a spokesperson for the writing community.”

Thursday’s concert twill spotlight compositions by the Collective’s members, including several that were played at the 2021 concert. But don’t expect them to sound the same. “In the true spirit of this ensemble, we may rework them a little bit, as well as presenting new things,” Kennard says.

A rotating cast of players and composers will be featured in future installments of the Collective’s monthly concerts. Bruce likes the math. “If we eventually have some of the younger people that are just getting out of school, but playing great, and already starting to write tunes, if they’re able to write for this [group], it’s going to give them material for their own groups, and then it just multiplies.”

The Third Law Collective Thursday, January 26, 7 p.m. at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland. $20 available here. Students $10 at the door with valid ID.The concert will be livestreamed here at showtime. The stream is free to view but donations are encouraged.


Trading Fours

There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Artis In The Night
Friday, Jan. 27, 8 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

We can’t bring back the days when you could slow-roll down Euclid Avenue and hear the sounds of multiple organ groups, but the sound of that era is being kept alive by guitarist Billy Artis, who played with the legendary Eddie Baccus. He has a new band that includes drummer Gary Jenkins and vocalists Shirley Cook and Ron Davis. Bringing the gravy on Bop Stop’s B-3 will be Dave Thomas.

Tim Mirth’s Guitar Band
Friday, Jan 27, 8 p.m.
BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St. Akron (tickets)

Earlier this month in these pages, guitarist Tim Mirth enthused about a new band that would give him a rare opportunity to play with another guitarist. Tim’s an electrical engineer by day, so excuse the workmanlike name, but this quartet with guitarist Brett Hamker and a rhythm section of Aidan Plank and drummer Tony Kazel promises to set off sparks.

Our Huckleberry Friend – The Songs Of Johnny Mercer
Saturday, Jan. 28, 7:30  p.m.
Maltz Performing Arts Center, 1855 Ansel Rd., Cleveland (tickets)

There’s a famous anecdote attributed to Dorothy Hammerstein, the wife of Oscar Hammerstein II: “Everyone always talks about Jerome Kern’s ‘Old Man River,” but Jerry Kern only wrote ‘dum dum dum dum.’ My husband wrote the words that fit those notes—’Old Man River.’ Nobody stops to remember that.” The work of lyricists is often forgotten, but not by the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, which will honor one of the best, Johnny Mercer, with the Musical Theater Project and vocalists Vince Mastro, Michael Schirtz and Evelyn Wright. 

Sam Blakeslee Large Group Album Fundraiser Concert
Saturday, Jan. 28, 6:30 p.m.
BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St. Akron (tickets)

While we’re on the subject of the difficulties that composers face getting their music heard, think about what it takes to record those compositions. Or just ask trombonist Sam Blakeslee who has a massive recording project to document his Large Group. Sam’s in New York now, but this weekend, he’s returning to the LG’s childhood home, BLU Jazz+, for a concert to raise funds for this spring’s planned recording sessions. Old friends from NEO will be joined by Sam’s new friends from New York for this one-off gala.

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.


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