Dec 072009
Authors: Madeline Novey

A dark and trendy jazz lounge.

The tones of a piano and saxophone interplay, synchronize and then break. The syncopated melodies and harmonies seem to alternate the beats of listeners’ hearts lounging in the dusk of the chairs, fingers tapping on tables, tinkling on glass rims.

But this is just an image created by a writer, a scene that most commonly merges a piano and saxophone in musical harmony.

It is not however, similar in the way CSU liturgical studies professor Joel Bacon’s and assistant professor of jazz studies Peter Sommer’s piano and saxophone found one another last Monday.

Cramped in Bacon’s office in the University Center for the Arts, Bacon, at a baby grand piano, and Sommer, standing off to his right, start to rehearse the complexities of a contemporary French sax piece they will perform tonight as part of the Virtuoso Series, which showcases the talents of CSU’s music professors.

The coupling of the two instruments – in a classic concert fashion – is not as common as a piano-flute duo Sommer says because the saxophone wasn’t patented by Alfred Sax until the 1940s.

“Straight forward and melodic,” Sommer says of the four pieces composed by three separate French contemporaries. “I wanted to play pretty things.”

“It’s just a big metal clarinet to me, but I have a new found appreciation,” says Bacon – he’s performed with Sommer several times before – laughing from behind his place at the piano.

The duo’s personalities harmonize as well as their two instruments.

As they rehearse individual sections of Ida Gotkovsky’s “Brilliance,” a classic piece all saxophonists play in their musical lifetimes, Sommer says, they power through a series of notes that rage up and down the pages, whipping Sommer’s fingers into a musical blur.

And then the music stops.

“I win!” Bacon says, throwing his hands into the air.

It’s a competition the two play. Who can make it through the idiosyncrasies that pepper the pages.

“If you could listen, that would help,” Sommer jokes, sax hanging slack across his chest.

“It’ll cost,” Bacon says, “A sushi lunch.”

And then they re-rehearse the section again.

Bacon started playing piano at the age of 4 and Sommer decided to play the sax in 5th grade “because it looked cool.” But they still get nervous for performances even after playing for the majority of their lives.

“We’re pushing ourselves to the limit on our instruments,” Bacon says. And it’s more like excited anticipation than nerves anyway.

Bacon and Sommer will perform four pieces composed by Ina Gotkovsky, Alfred Desenclos and Paule Maurice, three French contemporaries, tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Organ Recital Hall at the UCA located on College Avenue across from campus.

Tickets are $10 for the public, $5 for CSU students and $1 for youth ages 2 to 17. Tickets are available from the Campus Box Office in the Lory Student Center, by phone at (970) 491-4849 or online at

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