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Weekender | A tour of the eclectic Tufts music scene

Tufts’ roster of musicians grows on and off campus

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 8, 2012 08:11


Courtesy Kevin Mandagere

Senior Stevie Wolf has made a name for himself as a solo musician known for his guitar work and songwriting.

Given the almost−equal proportion of electronic producers, classical nuts, DJs, jazz heads, funk addicts, punk dissenters, hippy−folk−love children, esoteric composers, power chord thrashers and dad−rock purists at Tufts, it’s not surprising that students here are producing some outstanding music.

It’s hard to walk through the practice rooms in the basement of Granoff Music Center without hearing some talented student, no matter the time of day. Whether it’s a New England Conservatory dual−degree student working through a knotty passage in a Liszt sonata or one of the jazz groups running through a new arrangement, there’s plenty of talent on display just about everywhere you go on campus.

“It’s so impressive to me how many people are multitalented here. You talk to someone who’s an economics major, but played the Newport Jazz Festival. They have a well−developed skill set on so many instruments. It’s been incredible because it’s not even a secondary skill set. I’ve never been in a place that has such a diverse array of talent,” sophomore Danny Fishman, the lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for Thoroughfare, a recently formed Tufts band that focuses on folk rock with a mix of jazz and blues, said.

Fishman is certainly acquainted with the multifarious skills of Tufts’ student body. Thoroughfare features two dual−degree students, sophomore bassist Gabe Terracciano and freshman violinist Sam Weiser, as well as freshman Erik Broess on drums and junior Matt Mule on lead guitar. Each member plays multiple instruments, so it can occasionally be tough to figure out roles in the band.

“One quick lesson we learned was that it’s better if we all stay on one instrument and focus on that,” Fishman said. “This way, they get a feel for what kind of music they’re playing on that instrument. Other than that, whoever brings the tunes in usually comes in with a good vision of what they want to do with it. Everyone is all ears.”

It can often be difficult for bands like Thoroughfare, which have so much potential for different instrumentation, to create a definite identity. However, this is ultimately a good problem to have. With such a wide array of experiences to work from, many Tufts musicians have used this broader knowledge to work on arranging.

“We all have our own special instruments and we know enough about the other instruments to we know how well they’ll fit together,” senior Andrew Summerfield, alto saxophonist for The American Symphony of Soul, a group that deftly blends jazz fusion, funk, soul and dance music, said.

“When we collaborate to write a song, it’s not just the horn players writing the horn lines or the percussion people writing out the beats — we can all work on it together,” senior Dan Fortunato, the group’s drummer, added.

One of the most valuable assets to Tufts’ music scene is its music department, which serves as a catalyst for groups and a way for different musicians to get together and play. Before forming their band, most of the members of The American Symphony of Soul played together in various jazz groups like the Tufts Jazz Orchestra or its smaller combos.

“We all met because of the music scene. It’s a pretty huge sample of musicians from which to choose,” Summerfield said. “Not only did we all meet in jazz ensembles, we also improved a lot in the jazz ensembles. Because we’d been playing well together in a group we already had that chemistry. We also stole some arrangements from our conductor [Joel LaRue Smith], which gave us something to work from.”

Yet, the Tufts music scene is not limited to the Medford campus. The dual−degree program with New England Conservatory has certainly funneled some serious musicians over to Tufts, but the proximity of the Boston music scene and schools like Berklee College of Music can’t be ignored either.

One of Tufts’ more prominent groups, The Rare Occasions, has members who attend both Berklee and Tufts, illustrating the interplay between Tufts and different schools in the greater Boston area. The band was formed by Tufts junior Brian McLaughlin, the group’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, and Berklee drummer and backup vocalist Luke Imbusch.

The two played together in their hometown of Providence, R.I. before coming to Boston for college. They recruited Tufts freshman Peter Stone for guitar and vocals, as well as Berklee student Jeremy Cohen for bass and other instrumentals.

“Jamming with the Berklee guys is really cool because we have a pretty good music theory background so I can talk in that realm and they can totally follow, which makes it much easier to put ideas together and get arrangements going,” McLaughlin said.

“The scene at Berklee can be overwhelming because people there are talking about music all the time,” McLaughlin added. “There are a lot of bands there, obviously, but we have our niche because we’re not a funk band or a metal band. Songwriting is the focus.”

Music at Tufts isn’t just limited to bands, either. With a number of singer−songwriters, DJs, producers and other solo acts, Tufts has a strong scene for musicians who like to go it alone. Senior Stevie Wolf is one such musician who has a reputation for his heartfelt songwriting and guitar work.

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