By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz
For The Daily Item
“Sascha is a guy!” is often followed with “He’s pretty good.”
Thus begins the listening experience for people who never attended one of Sascha Feinstein’s infrequent gigs.
“Yes indeed, very good.
On Thursday, Feinstein, the 2008 Governor’s Award for Artist of the Year recipient, will fill the Bullfrog Brewery with a kaleidoscope of vibrantly-hued jazz tunes that clearly dispel the false notion that jazz is improvised elevator music on steroids.
“Improvisation is not, as some might think, simply playing whatever comes to mind. The tunes have specific chord changes. Each version has a vibe. The group shares a heartbeat,” Feinstein said. “So when I say people should trust their feelings, they, in turn, should understand that the expression generated by the band is not without governing principles. I think jazz may be the ultimate hybrid of impulse and intellect.”
Joining Feinstein on his musical quest are three of the Valley’s most talented musicians — Steve Adams on piano, Bill Stetz providing bass and Grammy-winning drummer Steve Mitchell.
“Jazz musicians have long understood that it’s best to play with players who are better than you are. This makes it easy for me,” he said. “But to say that they’re merely ‘better’ demeans their artistry. These are some of the finest musicians in the region. Period.”
The evening will showcase a diverse collection of jazz standards from Davis to Coltrane all performed in a style that pays respect to the perfection of the tune while adding a personalized twist.
“People tend to forget that our most profound emotions, from love to anger, are abstract by nature. The words themselves cannot fully embrace the reality of feeling. In other words, we’re willing to experience emotion if we know an absolute context; jazz, like any wordless art form, asks you to experience emotion without it being egocentric (that is, responding to a personal state of mind). Don’t worry about understanding the notes. Embrace the emotion of the music.”
In addition to embracing this music he performs, Feinstein has also woven jazz throughout his own life. That includes hosting a jazz radio program called “Jazz Standards” on WVIA Public Radio and penning several books as well as founding and editing “Brilliant Corners,” the nation’s only publication devoted to the beauty of poetry and jazz music.
“I love (jazz) standards, primarily from 1920s through the 1960s. My style depends on the decade associated with each tune, as well as my mood that evening,” said Feinstein.
“I almost always play in a quartet format, but the fourth member switches between guitar and piano. This time, Steve Adams will be on keyboard, which he can make sound like an acoustic piano, but he can also switch to organ. At least one tune, I suspect, will be a somewhat raunchy tenor and organ number, perhaps a funky version of ‘Misty’ a la Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes.”
The son of an abstract painter, Feinstein first became interested in jazz music while in high school and over the years he’s become one of the most talented jazz players in the area — a saxophonist with a style that can shift gears effortlessly from a melancholy to flat out impressive.
Recently Feinstein, a popular professor at Lycoming College, headed west where he gave a poetry reading at a famed bookstore in Reno and combined jazz and poetry at a club in Carson City.
“This was my first out-of-state gig where I read and played, and, man, I had a ball,” he noted. “We — the other poets and I — modified our delivery to mesh with the music. It transformed the stereotype from pseudo-hipster, beret-wearing, bongo-beating nonsense to genuine excitement. The crowd went nuts.”
Although he wears many hats, Feinstein’s first and most important role in life is being a family man who is happy to call the area home.
“As a musician, I’m so blessed to be surrounded by superior players who are willing to join me for events and I’m warmed by the audiences who keep supporting these efforts,” Feinstein said. “If I lived in New York or Chicago or San Francisco or any really major city, I would never be able to have such an experience. My band members would be fine; I’d be laughed off the stage. So it’s really a dream situation for me and I don’t take that for granted.”