The Thirtsy Hippo hosted the USM faculty-based Caribbean Collective with distinguished guests on Sunday, offering the community a taste of the musical talent from experienced musicians, an opportunity for students to share the stage with them and a preview of the coming concert at the Performing Arts Center on Monday at 8 p.m.
The back room of the Thirsty Hippo was full as the musicians and faculty members took the stage. Larry Panella, director of jazz studies at USM, played saxophone while Samuel Bruton, professor of philosophy and religion, handled the keyboard and organ. Director of Percussion Studies John Wooton led the band on the steelpan and vibraphone.
The Southern Miss musicians were welcoming a group of well-renowned artists who formed a sumptuous rhythm section and whose playing reflected a substantial musical experience.
Drummer Ricky Sebastian, who has performed with musicians such as John Scofield and Bobby McFerrin, assumed the drumming position and showed the crowd many colors and rhythms throughout the night. Chris Severin held the six-string bass, known for working with Allen Toussaint, Dianne Reeves, Alvin Batiste and many more.
Finally, Bill Summers, the percussionist and centerpiece of the Head Hunters, who made his mark in history with the famous 1973 Head Hunters record with Herbie Hancock, was tying the whole band together from the percussion stand.
“It was thrilling; it’s such an honor to play with all these people,” Bruton said. “There was so much talent on the stage, we’re very fortunate. It’s slightly intimidating to be playing with those guys, they’re just so good. But everybody elevates their playing. Once you get out there it’s so much fun, you can’t help but to get sucked into the joy of it all.”
The band played a diverse repertory with selection of Bruton’s compositions as well as jazz standards like Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” but also songs like Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.”
Summers proved to be a masterful entertainer, handling the crowd with finesse, humor and charisma. “It’s one thing to see musicians on a certain level that can play all kinds of notes, but it’s another thing to see someone like Bill who can play two notes and make it sound perfect,” said Gunner Vowell, a senior music education major who studied percussion. “It’s cool to see a band like this because you get both sides of that. But Bill especially, in his simplicity, minimalism, is really cool.”
After a humorous scatting demonstration, an interactive African song and a few percussion solos, Summers surprised everyone with an extremely familiar sound. It was the famous introduction to the Head Hunters’ “Watermelon Man,” and the mystery of that historical sound was unraveled as he revealed a simple beer bottle in which he was blowing, creating the emblematic sound of a whole musical generation.
The band followed Summers’ lead and engaged in a groovy adventure through time and space, creating avalanches of rhythms, scales and harmonies, spilling their emotions through the art of improvisation, all to the great pleasure of a respectful audience.
A memorable night for the Thirsty Hippo, the faculty members on stage, but mainly the music students who were granted a chance to come on stage and play as well, and learned from watching and exchanging with some of the best musicians on today’s scene.
They will have a chance to do it again as the Caribbean Collective with its guests in joined by the Southern Miss Percussions Ensemble, a 30-piece percussion band to back up this already successful formation.