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‘Open Spaces’ has room for mentoring and collaboration

Last updated January 14, 2022

By Kelley Bruss

Matt Olson’s fifth jazz record, “Open Spaces,” is also Adib Young’s first.

Olson, professor of saxophone and Furman’s director of jazz studies, hadn’t invited a student to play for one of his professional projects before. But Young ’22 is an “extraordinary” musician, Olson said, a once-in-a-lifetime caliber of student.

The new record, which will be released Jan. 21, has songs by both Olson and Young and also includes compositions and performances by some of Olson’s colleagues from the Greenville Jazz Collective.

Olson’s last record included songs written by current and former students, so inviting Young to collaborate as both a composer and a performer seemed like a natural evolution.

Olson received a three-year Furman Standard grant to record and produce “Open Spaces.” Young vividly remembers showing up for a lesson and Olson telling him, with a big smile, that he’d had a grant application approved – and that Young would be heavily involved in the upcoming project.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” Young said.

Olson wrote three of the pieces for the record and Young wrote two. The others were written by members of the Jazz Collective.

“When you have different composers, you have different voices,” Olson said.

And that goes for his student’s voice, too.

“It’s influenced by me, I think, but still comes through his lens,” Olson said.

The influence runs deep. Young, who grew up in Easley, South Carolina, began taking lessons with Olson as a freshman in high school. He considers Olson a trusted mentor and a key reason he came to Furman.

Jazz is particularly well-suited to The Furman Advantage ideals of collaboration and connection between faculty and students.

“This idea of high-impact experiences and close relationships with faculty is so natural for us,” Olson said. “The apprenticeship model is really how we learn the music to begin with.”

Think jam sessions more than lectures.

Working on “Open Spaces” gave Young the chance to experience the process as both a composer and a performer.

“We’re used to hearing our music through midi files,” he said. “You never know exactly how it’s going to sound until you hear it with live musicians.”

Since improvisation is key, jazz rehearsals aren’t about everybody getting the music “right.” Instead, the musicians learn a melody and chord progressions and then start to play with them to communicate the composer’s mood.

“It makes the process a lot easier when the composers are in the same room with you,” Young said.

The five musicians rehearsed a handful of times and played a single gig at Greenville’s Chicora Alley a few weeks before the recording session.

“It’s fun to play the whole set … and feel what it’s like to play it through and play it live,” Olson said. “It’s different than rehearsing and it’s different than recording.”

Young’s songs for the album are opposites: One taps into an introspective, spiritual vibe while the other is “chaotic.” He’s excited to bring his ideas to a larger audience.

“I don’t think there’s any greater honor as a musician than to do that,” Young said. “I hope that the audience is moved and inspired by the pieces.”

“Open Spaces” is being released by OA2, part of the Seattle-based OriginArts label. CDs are already on sale, and the recording will go live on major streaming services Jan. 21, its official release date.

All the musicians who participated also will be on campus Jan. 25 to play in Olson’s annual faculty recital, which will feature songs from the new record. The performance will be at 8 p.m. in Daniel Recital Hall.


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