Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
A winner of this year’s Fulbright Scholarship Awards will be broadening his horizons in Queens, New York, in the pursuit of his passion for Jazz.
Dexter Stanley-Tauvao is currently in New York – the Big Apple – about to take the next step in his academic musical career. He has a Fulbright Scholarship and will be spending two years doing his Master of Music at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College.
The honours graduate has been waiting for the opportunity to hone his skills to become a stronger musician, not only as a jazz drummer, but also focusing on composing and arranging.
“One of my goals out of this Master’s degree is to compose an album of Polynesian Jazz,” Dexter says.
“During my time at Vic (Victoria University, Wellington) I was lucky to meet and work with Matatumua Dr. Opeloge Ah Sam, who has been a mentor and friend of mine since I started studying.”
Matatumua was the first musicians to introduce the 27-year-old to the idea of Samoan jazz fusion. His compositions have combined and incorporated Samoan melodies, texts and themes with jazz harmonies. This was an eye-opener for Dexter, pushing him more into the direction of jazz and opening up new and ambitious possibilities for this fusion.
“I want to explore this fusion of our music through the context of the jazz orchestra. I want to take elements from big band music into Polynesian music and vice versa, combining the culture I grew up in with the sounds I have come to love,” he says.
One of the hurdles he has identified on his journey is the cultural reception of a foreign sound, much like the barriers of misconceptions surrounding the genre, a common occurrence the Samoan Jazz musician says he has come face-to-face with.
“I have a feeling that we tend to shy away from these kinds of spaces and sounds because of this first misunderstanding of jazz music. About the difficulties of getting Pasifika people into jazz, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that jazz is not a popular kind of music anymore.
“I think there’s a large misunderstanding that jazz is a Pālagi art form only to be associated with upper-class communities, dimly-limit clubs and high-end art venues in a similar way that classical music often is, ” he adds.
Dexter alludes to the roots of the genre for guidance, speaking of Jazz as deeply ingrained in African-American culture, that branches out into all the music we listen to today in Hip Hop, RnB, Soul, Funk.
“Jazz is already in the music we listen to through RnB, hip-hop, soul, reggae, and jazz today is far more than the traditional Frank Sinatra or Miles Davis sound you might first think of when someone says ‘jazz’”, Dexter says..
Dexter’s current arrangements and ideas are still in their early phase and, as well as studying in New York, he couldn’t be more excited about what a big band shout section might sound like through the lens of a fa’ataupati or a sāsā, and what feelings and textures a saxophone soli would create in the middle of a Polynesian love song.
“I’m hoping to bring a more literal fusion of our music with jazz, but I think if Polynesian jazz musicians were more visible and people could see that we’re more than capable of playing and making this music, it would inspire more of us to listen and get involved with it”.