From “Mrs. Robinson” to “Frank Lloyd Wright,” Paul Simon Tunes Recreated in Faculty Jazz Performance

On Monday night, the music of Paul Simon—Simon and Garfunkel—flowed in a relaxed and cool setting in Gasson 100, where four musicians, faculty members from colleges around Boston, played for a small crowd. Simon’s music was broken down to render it recognizable for the common music listener. This allowed space for the experimentation that jazz espouses. All the instruments—flute, piano, double bass, and guitar—shined through. The night was written by four musicians in their element, composed for a night of fun.

Tom Oboe Lee, the head composer and frontman, teaches jazz at Boston College and played a breathy flute all night. Brad Hatfield, piano, is a full-time faculty member at Northeastern and has written Emmy award-winning music for films and TV shows, from Glee to Iron Man 2. Gustavo Assis-Brasil, from The Cambridge School of Weston, wielded a wicked guitar without a headstock, and he played with smooth passion. Finally, John Lockwood, coming from the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, rounded out the group finger-picking the double bass.

The concert felt like every jazz musician’s dream: dark lighting, a small crowd that loved solos, and dark clothing for the musicians. All the players wore glasses and suits, save Lockwood, who had on a long-sleeved shirt. Lee and Assis-Brasil wore sneakers with their suits, and Hatfield wore a mock turtleneck underneath his jacket.

Lee and Hatfield have been playing together for over 20 years, which reflected in their style as they riffed off of each other at several points during the first half of the night. They were also having the most fun, as they got to smile and close their eyes while they played—Assis-Brasil and Lockwood were often hunched over looking at sheet music, their solos being their only chance to revel in the song. All four arranged the music for the night, and Lee said that his time spent growing up in Brazil impacted the way he deconstructs and composes music.

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Seven of the 10 renditions stood out and engaged each other quite well. Lee warned about the two opening chords of “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” saying they reacted with “Whoa, what are you doing?” when they first deconstructed it. Lee also snipped at how strange the melody of “Mrs. Robinson” was, claiming that no other song was written like it. Also speculating about the composition of “A Most Peculiar Man,” Lee said that Simon might’ve been high when he wrote it.

Most of the melodies had been lifted straight from the original song, save for “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her,” which Lee said he deconstructed quite a bit. That rendition had a sense of building not exhibited by the other songs, as it had several low and quiet movements that layered on top of each other, getting louder as the song went on. “Old Friends,” a song predominantly featuring Assis-Brasil, also stood out. He experimented and dabbled, playing and exploring in the creative space that jazz yearns for—other music hardly feels so freeing.

For the two songs everyone knows, “Mrs. Robinson” and “Feelin’ Groovy,” the band created versions that made sense to the listener, yet didn’t sound like carbon copies of the original songs. The deconstruction allowed for an upbeat feel on “Feelin’ Groovy,” while Mrs. Robinson’s melody, as previously noted, is so recognizable it had to stay the same. And it was as infectious as it always was, bringing smiles to those in the crowd as they sat back and enjoyed.

Overall, the night accomplished what it set out to do: it reduced the music of Paul Simon to relaxed jazz melodies, allowing the faculty and the crowd to listen to a night of popular music with a jazzy twist. It’s rarer and rarer to find such good music that’s so inventive unless there’s a price tag attached. Sometimes, all you need to know is what Lee said when he closed the night with “Song for the Asking:” “We’re just gonna play it, and, that’s it.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor