Ayres Multicultural Center Combines Smooth Jazz with Student Poetry

By Jasmine Huang
Junior Editor

Flute in hand, jazz musician Galen Abdur Rezzaq and his Trio made some final sound checks on the Ayres Multicultural Center (MCC) stage as students milled about, waiting for both the poetry slam and music. Rows of couches and chairs were spread across the dimly-lit room, giving way to a casual and relaxed atmosphere. In the MCC’s foyer, plates of cookies and juices were laid out on the table, adding on to the homey quality of the space.

My primary desire was for the students to have an enjoyable evening reciting and listening to poetry, supported by jazz flutist Galen Abdul Razzaq and his Trio,” Eric Benjamin (C’73) explained, an organizer of the event and director of multicultural affairs. “This was an opportunity also for an array of students to gain valuable public speaking experience, while making new friends and acquaintances.”

The sound of conversations quickly died down once he walked before the audience. After thanking Rezzaq’s band for coming out to Sewanee to perform that January 3, Benjamin introduced MCC resident Ronald Hayes Jr. (C’19)  and the emcee for the night, Cindy Cruz (C’18). Shortly after his speech, soothing jazz began filling up the room as Rezzaq and his Trio opened the poetry slam event.

Once the first song ended, Lauren Newman (C’18) came forward to read Jaiden Turner-Oliphant’s (C’21) piece. On stage, Rezzaq quietly asked Newman about the content of the poem. Following a brief overview of  Turner-Oliphant’s work, Rezzaq cued his Trio and they began playing a soft melody to enhance Newman’s performance.

For the rest of the night, students and their poems controlled the mood of Rezzaq and his Trio’s music. As Tija Odoms (C’21) read out loud Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” the jazz artists carried forth a strong, uplifting harmony. Led by Joey Adams’ (C’18) performance of Jennifer Falu’s “10 Things I Want to say to a Black Man,” the band went with a low, sensual, and smooth tone. Niko Darby’s (C’18) own piece, combining both horror and biology, gave way to a strange, suspenseful sound.

The art itself wasn’t the only component that stood out. Altogether the sense of fellowship being built as men and women supported their classmates proved to be the most fulfilling experience. Audience member Bernice Leveque (C’21) commented, “I thought it was a great way to bring the community together for a fun but mellow event.”

During one particular break, Rezzaq emphasized the importance of these relationships and how they should be used to empower minority students. “My favorite part of the night was hearing a speech from the lead jazz musician [Rezzaq],” remarked Lala Hilizah (C’21). “He was saying that we as black people are going to have it hard, but ultimately, our lives do in fact matter.”