Jazz Mafia Symphony will perform multi-genre show

Published 2010-10-11T19:47:00Z”/>


Josh Hegg

Imagine sitting around a table, listening to the conversation of Duke Ellington, Beethoven and Tupac. What would they talk about?

While it is impossible to know for sure, Chico can hear what that collaboration might sound like with the music of Jazz Mafia Symphony as they perform their album “Brass, Bows, and Beats” Friday at Laxson Auditorium.

Jazz Mafia Symphony began their musical endeavor like many other bands – in the underground of the Bay Area music scene.

Open-ended jams and improvisation allowed the group to expand its instrumentation and incorporate different genres such as hip-hop and classical, said founder and songwriter Adam Theis. It was during one of these jams that – because of the underground mentality and genre-bending songs – one of the DJs they were working with described the ensemble as “some sort of jazz mafia,” and the name stuck.

A 60-piece orchestra will perform the work, but what will really intrigue onlookers is the composition itself.

The orchestra is made up of many different eras and musical styles. The songs incorporate jazz, hip-hop, funk, rock, classical and other influences into a melting pot of creativity and virtuosity.

Theis could be described as something closer to a musical mad scientist than a composer in the classical sense.

Theis, a self-described “garage band type of guy,” wanted to bring in his own influence and fuse it with his compositional training in jazz, he said.

Tired of being a “hired man” for jazz ensembles, Theis’ real ambition was to blend the complex compositions of ’40s big bands with the camaraderie that he felt with the underground ensembles he was a part of, he said. This thought blossomed into a reality with the 60-piece orchestra he now oversees and composes for.

Even though “Brass, Bows, and Beats” was the brainchild of Theis, the composer emphasized how Jazz Mafia Symphony would not be possible without the group’s willingness to collaborate.

“Jazz is all about using your ears,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from and what style you play. As long as you use your ears, it’s easy to collaborate.”

Jazz Mafia Symphony’s list of festivals and headlining gigs is enough to make any musician cry in jealousy, but Theis is especially excited to play in Chico for the first time, he said.

“People are coming from all over places like Tahoe and Reno to see us – it’s crazy!” he said.

As part of Jazz Mafia Symphony’s trip to Chico, they are hosting two classes for students at Chico State. The first one is for younger kids from the surrounding schools, and the other is for the Chico State students. The class will cover the compositional and playing techniques from individual members of the band.

There is something refreshing about seeing a style of music presented in an unexpected way, and Jazz Mafia capitalizes on this, said Risa Romero, an organizational communication major.

“I really enjoy seeing artists with different musical styles work together,” she said. “It’s really cool when they collaborate.”

The group is being brought to the Chico public by Chico Performances.

Daran Goodsell, the head of Chico Performance’s marketing and publicity department, advises students not to be scared by the word “jazz,” she said.

“I’m not a huge jazz fan myself, but these guys have such a big group and play so many styles,” she said. “It’s not just for jazz purists.”

Josh Hegg can be reached at

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