The Hill is Alive With the Sound of Music
Music plays an ever-present role on Cornell's campus — from chime concerts, acapella groups, Big Red Band, and more than 50 other musical groups. Two students who specialize in jazz have received recent honors for their unique blend of passion, performance, and academics — Cosimo L. Fabrizio '22 in Arts and Sciences and Colin Hancock (B.S. URS '19) in AAP.
Fabrizio is performing at Jazz at Lincoln Center with Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Diane Schuur in early November and Hancock's Original Cornell Syncopators are currently working on a project with Pittsburgh-based and Grammy-nominated Rivermont Records. Both students attribute their initial interest to early experiences of being exposed to music and falling in love with the unique culture and sound of jazz, a distinct art form that originated in New Orleans in the 1900s.
For Hancock, it was the music of Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and James Deshay that sparked his interest.
"When I was about eight years old, my dad was cleaning out his old CD collection, and I noticed a couple of CDs that had this interesting looking artwork," Hancock said. "I picked up the CDs and from the first note, it was like nothing I had ever heard before . . . that was really my moment. I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about and I wanted to play this kind of music."
Fabrizio attributes his parent's immigrant heritage for his interest in the dynamic between cultures and different genres.
"My mom is a Caribbean immigrant from Grenada, and my dad's grandparents are Italian immigrants," he said. "These two very different cultures coexisted in my house through music — my dad played everything from Funkadelic to Luciano Pavarati, while my mom played Bob Marley and calypso."
The initial interest stuck with both of the students, and they sought out opportunities to continue playing, both in and out of school.
Hancock played in his middle school and high school symphonies: "I played upright bass there and learned alternative rock playing electric bass. But it's really been jazz that always stuck with me," he said.
Influential experiences also came from those outside the classroom. "When I was a senior in high school I was actually performing the coronet professionally in Austin, Texas, probably three times a week," Hancock said.
Fabrizio also took a broad approach to his musical education, learning classical music first but still admiring the jazz he grew up with. "I started off in classical and I did the Juilliard Pre-College program at the Juilliard School, and around seventh grade, I started to really get into jazz," he said. "I think coming from the classical world at Juilliard Pre-College, which was particularly isolated for guitarists, jazz struck me as being a much more community-oriented art form. Jazz music requires you to interact with people and acknowledge what others have to say. I guess I found jazz to be more of a conversation than a recitation, which fit me better."
Both students have integrated research interests into their art form.
Hancock is the founder of The Original Cornell Syncopators, a jazz group devoted to performing old style jazz. The idea came from Cornell's commitment to "Any Person, Any Study," the academic history of jazz performance, and the urban planning student's interest in the historical progression of jazz styles.
"It was my second semester freshman year. I realized that a year from that time would be the 100-year anniversary of when the first jazz record was made," Hancock said, "and I was thinking that no school anywhere is going to do anything about this event, but it really changed the course of American culture. So I pitched this idea to the head of the jazz department, Paul Merril, about a way to honor this milestone, and he totally took the idea with open arms. We ended up with five of us who formed the initial group."
Since its origination, the group has grown from the original five to 13 members and has gained attention from a wide audience.
"People realized that we were doing something that not a lot of people were doing. We did that original concert and it was quite a success. We had a video of the show professionally done and that first gave us a spot in an article on Jazz Live, which is a big jazz website, and also a spot at the San Diego Jazz Festival this past fall."
Fabrizio also views music as playing an interdisciplinary role with history and academics. As a government and economics major, he attributes his political aspirations, in part, to his exposure to jazz music and the jazz community growing up.
"My experience in the community of jazz music has manifested itself into a fascination with the intersection of art and politics, and subsequently, culture and government. I look at the way jazz has preserved its democratic roots and see a tremendous need for these democratic qualities in American politics today. Namely, we need more people in government who have a willingness to listen to others and an ability to react meaningfully to their ideas."
Both students are excited about their upcoming projects.
"We're going to look at the impact that college bands back in the day had on American culture," Hancock said of his record deal. "That narrative has really never been written, especially about bands at historically African American colleges. We're also including the Ivy league and major midwestern schools. We have a pretty cool team working on that. The songs are going to be original pieces from the various schools all performed by us."
Fabrizio was recently named a Davidson Fellow, winning a $25,000 scholarship for his project titled 21st Century Jazz Music - The Search for Authenticity. He is also beginning rehearsal for his upcoming performance at Lincoln Center.
"Part of my practicing process for this next show has just been listening to the record that I'm going to be playing from when I'm walking between class. Even though I haven't actually sat down with my guitar and looked at the music, just being able to sing all my parts before I get to rehearse them is going to be incredibly helpful."
Both students share a genuine passion and devotion to keeping music a constant feature in their lives and the lives of others.
"It's been really cool to see how this idea I had has grown into something so much bigger," said Hancock. "We're really just trying to keep the music alive, that's our mission. No one in the band is a music major, we all just really care about continuing the jazz legacy, which is great to see."
Fabrizio echoes this personal commitment: "I'm never going to stop listening to music, going to support my friends who are in music, going to shows, and performing myself. It's something that I love to do and it's a passion of mine, and I see it continuing to be a passion of mine throughout my life.
By Catherine Gorey
This story originally appeared in the College of Arts and Sciences News.