Local folk musicians Jack Boaz and Eli Collignon have paired up for an evening of their original string-based compositions presented as a drive-in concert hosted by the Taos Center for the Arts.
Boaz composes fiddle tunes inspired from the American blues and Irish and Scottish fiddle styles. Collignon writes songs inspired by French jazz and American songwriting traditions. Most of the original works on the concert program were written during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 50-minute concert takes place at 5 p.m. this Saturday (Oct. 17) in the TCA backlot, at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Tickets are pay what you wish with a $10 suggested donation. Audience members will remain in their vehicles for the duration of the concert, and will listen in through FM radio, as they watch the musicians perform from an outdoor stage.
I caught up with Boaz and Collignon via email to find out more about what they have planned for their musical show. Here is an edited excerpt of our exchange.
Briefly describe your musical background.
Boaz: I grew up playing violin in a pretty rigorous Western classical European tradition. I played violin in conservatory as a young person and by the time I got to college, I was pretty burned out on the life of enforced perfection.
At University of California-Berkeley, I majored in music and there I was encouraged to study free jazz and jazz after 1960 with the legendary improviser and pianist Myra Melford. She changed my life in a whole bunch of ways, one of which was seeing that collaboration in music can be a non-hierarchical activity as well as a community activity that lifts up and hears different voices: valuing their difference. This is so unlike the colonialist tradition of music I grew up in and I am still unlearning every day.
After college, I won the Hertz Fellowship from UC Berkeley and I embarked on a trip around the world for approximately two years to learn the folk music of my ancestry: Hungarian, Irish and Scottish music. That trip was a whole 'nother kettle of fish and I learned music and made connections with folks in so many different places and musical traditions. Since being back in the states, I moved to New Mexico, where some of my family lives (they are visitors on this land) and I have been in the continuous starting process of writing music since.
Collignon: I started playing music when I was 11. A friend of mine used to bring his piano to school and we would play through lunch hour. After playing piano for a couple of months I decided that piano wasn't cool enough (I was a jerky seventh-grader) and began learning guitar. That really threw me into the world of music. I fell into the rock and folk explosion of the 1960s and '70s. That was my first major influence.
When I was 18, I left Taos to live in Paris. It was in Paris that I began exploring jazz. The freedom of jazz inspired me to start learning jazz piano. About a year ago, I went on tour with a band called Over Under. We spent three crazy months traveling the United States. After the tour, the band got an opportunity to live on the East Coast and record in New York City, but, like everything, it was shut down and I decided to come back home to Taos.
What do you have planned for your TCA concert?
Boaz: Eli and I will be playing a collection of original tunes as a duo. I guess you would say a "folk" duo although that sort of has a huge host of meanings. We will be playing songs and fiddle tunes. They are in some amalgamation folk style that I do not know how to explain. I do not ever claim to play bluegrass, as I have never learned that tradition formally. I draw great inspiration of feeling from the African American folk style of the blues as one of the roots of American music, and I draw inspiration in my writing style from Celtic folk tunes -- at construction of song form and with my bowing styles.
Tell me about some of the songsyou'll be playing.
Boaz: One tune I wrote but really improvised first is called "Wildfires Down South." I wrote this one on the first really smoky day in Taos, probably around April when there were wildfires in Arizona. I noticed how the light was changing orange early in the day and how the air smelled like wood smoke. It made me feel not too great to be outside so I sat inside that morning and started playing this tune.
All my tunes come from improvisation and repetition. This tune is cool because it is in a different violin tuning, a traditional Cajun tuning that I found out about by looking on Wikipedia. My strings are all tuned down a whole step and that affects the feeling the violin carries. It is a deeper, more resonant sound.
Collignon: One song, called "Loud Enough for Me," was written earlier this year at the beginning of the pandemic. It was when I was living on the East Coast. I had lost my job and spent the hours of my day reading the news on impending doom and watching the German series "Dark," which is also heavily tainted with a dreading feeling of doom: a dark feeling. I wrote the song "Loud Enough for Me," which both lyrically and melodically reflects that sense of anxiety and unknown that was approaching. I also really wanted to write a song for "Dark." It is a great show. If you haven't seen it, watch it.
Another one that Jack and I co-wrote is a song currently called "Chicken Porch in Winter Song." We have to change that name soon. It is a loud, fast fiddle tune. We dig it. It is impossible not to clap your hands and stomp your feet when you listen to it.
How has the pandemic affected you? How has it affected your music?
Boaz: The pandemic, well, how can an artist not respond to their times? We all do it differently. I am deeply affected by the fact that we cannot be social and we cannot gather for times of joy and touch and hold each other as strangers. I am deeply affected by the racist police state we live in. I am 25 years old. I am a child of an economy in the midst of capitalist decline.
So inherently I write about all of this because I am a present human living in the world while I do acts of creation. I write in a language of feeling. A language that can express deep sorrow and deep joy without the bounds of language. This time makes me question why I do the things I do. It has made me sit with myself in all my weakness and strength more than ever before.
Collignon: The pandemic, for me, has turned music writing into even more of a personal experience than it was before. When you are writing music on the road while gigging, there is a lot of thought put into how the music will work with your audience and also how it will work with the rest of your set. Without any of that, I feel free to write whatever comes, unfiltered.
Although, to be honest, the pandemic has also had a negative impact on my writing. Without shows or reasons to complete songs, I've found that oftentimes I'll start a song and never fully see it to its finish. This show at the TCA has been great in that it has given me a reason to finish and put together a set.
For questions about Saturday's TCA concert, contact email@example.com.