You can understand how passionate Mark Tasker is about jazz just by talking to him. When he’s not teaching social studies at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, he’s living and breathing jazz — especially when he’s playing with his quartet, the Aurora Jazz Project.
Never interested in staying rooted in just one style, Tasker and his cohorts in Aurora — guitarist Brady Harris, bassist Galen Smith and drummers Austin Hodges and Dan Colageo, who switch off — are both purists and rebels when it comes to the music they love.
“The focus of Aurora has always been to pay due homage to the roots of jazz, but to take it in a new direction,” said Tasker. “We try to make it relevant to today. Jazz gets into trouble when it becomes a museum piece. It never was before. It was rebel music. If you want Glenn Miller, you might want to try a different band than us.”
Aurora Jazz Project will kick off Schoodic Arts For All’s 2009 Jazz and Classical Concert Series with a show tonight at 7 p.m. at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. Over the years, the group has played outdoor festival all over the state, like Bangor’s Cool Sounds concert series and WERU-FM’s Full Circle Fair in Blue Hill (which, sadly, is canceled this year — we’ll get to that in a later column).
Whether it’s cool, traditional swingin’ jazz or their more adventurous, progressive music, Aurora Jazz Project runs the gamut of influences. They’re more akin to groups such as Soulive, Medeski Martin & Wood and the Bad Plus, and when the band lets loose and starts experimenting, anything goes.
“We do a song called ‘Afro Blue,’ which is a jazz waltz. It’s not one of the more famous ones,” said Tasker. “Anyway, leading into it we do the intro from the Allman Brothers Band’s ‘Whipping Post.’ It fits like a glove. How many other jazz bands do that? I think the Allman Brothers are some of the baddest cats to ever play. I’ll steal from anyone. That’s the beautiful thing about jazz — everything is fair game.”
Along with all the other members of Aurora Jazz Project, Tasker, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, is an accomplished musician. He returned to Maine in 2002, after years spent out West. Shortly after returning, he met guitarist Harris. The rest of the pieces fell into place soon after, and Aurora Jazz Project was born.
In keeping with his adventurous spirit, Tasker’s biggest inspiration is the man himself — Miles.
“As a trumpet player, naturally I am inspired by Miles Davis. He covered so much ground musically,” said Tasker. “He started off with swing, then bop, post bop, to all the wild stuff with Gil Evans. And then he winds up playing really beautiful versions of Cyndi Lauper tunes. That’s the spirit that guides me.”
Of course, Tasker is also a teacher, and can’t help but hope to educate people about the music that’s been with him his whole life. He’ll get a chance to do that on Friday, thanks to a special gig Aurora Jazz Project is playing before the evening show.
“Before the show that night, we’re playing a show for 100 kids in grades 5 through 8,” said Tasker. “I am so psyched for it. It’s a chance to show them some live jazz, and say ‘Here, this is our country’s greatest contribution to art.’ I feel pretty lucky to be able to do that.”
Aurora Jazz Project will play at 7 tonight at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor, as part of School Arts for All’s Jazz and Classical Concert Series. Admission is $15 for adults, $7 for students and free for kids 12 and under. For more information on Schoodic events, visit www.schoodicartsforall.org.
More on Aurora Jazz Project can be found at www.aurorajazzproject.com.