The Corona Blues

The coronavirus has disrupted the lives of musicians all over the world, bringing performances, rehearsals, and recording to a complete halt. Michigan has been hit hard, and the worst outbreak is in Detroit and surrounding areas, endangering the lives of many of our jazz musicians. With deep concern for the people we love and admire we reached out to three major jazz players of different generations, to learn how they were coping with the pandemic. LB spoke with Vincent Chandler and George Davidson, while PM conducted a conversation with Michael Malis.

Vincent Chandler

Trombonist Vincent Chandler will turn 50 this year so the coronavirus put a sudden stop to his busy life as a performer and teacher in the middle of his career. He is worried about the virus, but not as much as his wife who is an opera singer. She has been rehearsing for a performance of Terence Blanchard’s “Champion” at the Detroit Opera House, but it is likely to be postponed. This is very unsettling given all the time she has put into it.

Chandler also had big plans for the summer, including a chance to teach at the Interlochen Arts Academy for three weeks, but that has been canceled. Online teaching is of course possible, but clearly a second best to live face-to-face interactions with students. Chandler is by now an experienced teacher and takes great pride in it. He would cite his teaching as his primary contribution to the jazz world, closely followed by performing and composing. He got his feet wet in the world of teaching with two jobs in South Carolina (Clafton University and S.C. State University) that lasted for three years. His students were enthusiastic but came in with widely differing levels of musical training. Chandler had to adapt his arrangements to match the skill levels in the band. He guesses that his teaching experience helped him land a job at Wayne State University where he is now on a three-year contract. “It’s an honor beyond words to teach at Wayne” he says. As a child growing up in Detroit, he took part in summer camps there and later attended briefly as an undergraduate. He later received an M.A. at the University of Michigan and also taught as an instructor at Michigan State. Chandler is a trombonist firmly rooted in the Detroit jazz tradition. His favorite player is Curtis Fuller and he has taken part in several tributes to the master. He has also had the privilege of visiting Fuller at the Rehab Center where he currently resides.

Right now, the future looks uncertain for jazz education. Chandler wonders how we can conduct a music program within the confines of social distancing. The ensemble experience is necessary to become a performer, so how can we achieve that today? How can we encourage students to go into a music that puts live performance at its center? What is the future of live music? These are some of the existential questions raised by Vincent Chandler in the context of the present pandemic.