Artist Profile: SMTD senior Addison Tharp digitizes jazz

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 - 10:46am

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Addison Tharp

Innovation in the performance community is not a new phenomenon during the COVID-19 pandemic, but what about here on campus? The School of Music, Theatre & Dance has a whole host of performers who have not stood by and waited for the pandemic to pass, and SMTD senior Addison Tharp is no exception. 

As a jazz studies major, Tharp has faced the challenges of remote music production head-on as he navigates the new digital world of music production. “As a musician, you have to sort of adapt to the lifestyle because obviously, I don’t have any gigs or performances or anything like that anymore,” Tharp recently told The Daily in a virtual interview.

Despite the challenges that have been presented to him, Tharp has been working on multiple projects this semester. Although a trumpet player by training, he also plays piano, composes and writes music whenever he can. 

Tharp’s most recent endeavor was a virtual big band piece entitled “Awakening,” performed by Tharp himself alongside a small group of musicians. Tharp composed, produced and performed the piece along with his peers — the total process took four months to complete. 

When recalling the making of “Awakening,” Tharp describes the process as an interesting and difficult one, especially for a jazz musician. When a jazz ensemble performs or records live, it is common for the musicians to rely heavily on improvisation instead of strictly following the written music. However, when virtual, this natural flow between players is near impossible to replicate when the performers cannot hear and react to each other — instead of the usual spontaneity of someone taking the lead, the parts have to be organized and planned out more than they would in a typical jazz performance.

“It requires listening, being all there together, reacting to everybody playing,” Tharp said. “That’s the one downside to this format, is that you can’t really do that.”  

Each part of Tharp’s piece was recorded individually and then layered together one by one instead of the traditional group recording style.

This was a new experience for Tharp, who had no exposure to recording in this kind of digitized way, with its lengthy process and discombobulated parts. However, the experience offered Tharp the opportunity to learn new skills mixing and arranging pieces of music digitally. 

“It was just a lot more focused in terms of having to record everything, whether that was soloing or just the written parts,” Tharp said, revealing a consolatory advantage of remote production.

Although it was months in the making, Tharp’s song was finally completed on Nov. 27, 2020, and can be streamed now

When asked about the inspiration for the piece, Tharp replied, “Basically, the overlying message of the chart is like, trying to find beauty with all the stuff that’s going on right now. Trying to find beauty in things as simple as hearing the birds sing or something along those lines.” 

His words, as well as his music, strike a common chord — beauty is something the world is sorely in need of right now more than ever.

Tharp championed “Awakening” as one of his more complex pieces of work, and the lyrics were personal to him: “I used it as sort of like a way to cope with the initial shock of COVID. Because that was like, one of the first things that I did over the summer was start writing this tune.” 

It has been a difficult year for many, and Tharp’s story is not an unfamiliar one. Seeing the beauty and art that has bloomed out of hardship is inspiring and heartwarming.

With this piece finished and behind him, Tharp has more time to focus on his long-term project, a five-to-six-song EP he has been experimenting with. With one song finished and another on the way, he is branching out from his acoustic roots and delving into electronic music, resulting in something akin to a mixture of Anomalie and Robert Glasper.

Excited for what comes next, Tharp is ready to take his new skills with him into his career post-graduation. “It’s adding a whole new dimension to (my) creative ability.” 

Although it hasn’t been perfect by any means, Tharp’s work is proof that jazz performance has persevered.

Daily Arts Writer Hadley Samarco can be reached at hsamarco@umich.edu.


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