STOCKTON — Among the lessons students of University of the Pacific’s Brubeck Institute learn is that the jazz great was an international ambassador. In addition to a 1958 State Department-sponsored tour of Poland, Turkey, India, Ceylon, East and West Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, Dave Brubeck played throughout the world during his career.
“We’re paying homage to Dave and the spirit he tried to uphold, building connections between people,” said Pacific freshman Gabe Rupe, who plays the upright bass in the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet, which will be in Asuncion, Paraguay, this week not only to perform, but to build a house with Habitat for Humanity.
“Dave went on this tour to the Middle East that acted as a cultural exchange between nations,” Rupe, 19, continued. “Jazz is an art form that is accessible to all people. It has elements of all music, from Africa, European, everywhere. Jazz being an art form of all people, open to all people, it’s fitting that we use that art form as a means of promoting discussion and communication and reaching out to people in good faith and kindness. It’s nice. We’re doing something I think Dave would have liked us doing.”
Rupe, drummer Maya Stepansky, pianist Tony Milano and saxaphonist Isaiah Collier will be without trumpeter Evan Abounassar, who is staying home because of an illness, knew of the trip to Paraguay when they auditioned for the Brubeck Institute’s elite combo.
It came about as a result of a friendship between interim Brubeck Institute Director Patrick Langham and Habitat for Humanity of San Joaquin County Executive Director Michael Huber.
“Two years ago I went to Nicaragua as a team member and I was so jazzed, I took a yearlong class for certification to be a Habitat leader on global missions,” said Huber, who worked in the medical supply business for 29 years before joining Habitat for Humanity in October 2014. “Patrick and I were talking one night and I said I was going to pick a country, and he said, ‘We should take my students. They have to do community service hours,’ and I said, ‘Let’s have a concert.’ ”
The idea germinated into a combination excursion. The students will help build a home for a couple and their 2-year-old daughter, and will meet Paraguayan musicians and perform. Their biggest concert will feature the band from American University in Asuncion.
“It will change them as musicians and human beings,” Langham said. “It allows them to see the world and recognize it’s not quite as big as we may assume. We’re all interconnected. It’s also an opportunity to partner with Habitat for Humanity and have the students work to help someone that is less privileged than they are.”
The students admittedly don’t know much about Paraguay music.
“It has its own form of folk music, similar to what folk music is in Brazil and other South American countries,” said Rupe, who is from Denver and making his first foray to a foreign country beside Canada. “It will be an enlightening experience. I’ll find a way to incorporate elements of their folk music in the music I write.”
Playing music they love for a new audience is only is part of the appeal of the trip.
“I thought that this was incredible, the fact they are combining two very important things I love, music and giving back and getting involved with the community,” said Stepansky, a 19-year-old drummer from Montclair, New Jersey. “To do something like that and follow in the steps of Dave Brubeck, that was something when I heard about it, made me want to come and do this program.”
Stepansky started playing drums in elementary school and her twin brother, Jeremy, learned piano. The two were often compared to Karen and Richard Carpenter because of their musical instrument choices. They learned about giving back when they were young and recorded an album when they were 12, raising $5,000 they donated to two different organizations that house those displaced by war or who are homeless.
Most of Rupe’s volunteerism has involved music, he said.
“This is going to be a very cool change,” Rupe said. “Growing up in the Western world, it’s such a different way of life. ”
And, of course, he loves the opportunity to play music for the people of Paraguay. Jazz is his passion.
“For me jazz is special because it’s one of the few forms of music that kind of conveys life in all its nuances,” Rupe said. “You never know what’s going to happen next. We’re all improvising in the moment. Jazz is special in that way. There are elements of joy in life, elements of pain and trial and tribulation and it’s a music that fully encompasses what life is, in a way. It’s also fun to play.”
Particularly with the quintet, whose members are selected not only based on skill, but their chemistry with one another.
“Without Dave, we wouldn’t be having the lives that we have,” Rupe said. “Playing his music is the least we can do.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord