- May 13, 2018
Jeff Rupert is preparing for his greatest jazz performance yet — same as every other time.
“(My songs) have to be the best stuff I’ve ever done, to date, and if it’s not, I’m bored to tears,” Rupert said. “The gig I’m doing on the 26th with my guys is going to be the best gig I’ve ever done. That’s what my attitude is, always. … My favorite gig is always my next one.”
The 54-year old musician has been playing the tenor saxophone for four decades but has taken on quite a few other roles through the years. He is the University of Central Florida’s director of jazz studies, a father of two burgeoning musicians, the creator of the college’s own label Flying Horse Records, leader of a series of bands, the creator of numerous jazz albums and more.
On Dec. 26, Rupert will be reprising one of his favorite roles — leading his Jeff Rupert Quartet for a lively jazz performance at the Blue Bamboo Center of the Arts.
It’s been a winding road for Rupert. He was born to a family of classical musicians and jazz enthusiasts — some of whom wanted him to stay far away from the music industry — in metropolitan New York and moved to Los Angeles when he was 15. He says the transition was something of a culture shock.
Despite his mother’s best intentions, Rupert always planned on playing the saxophone and broke into the jazz scene playing with Charlie Ventura at 15. He eventually attended Rutgers University and then headed back again to New York City. It’s been a prolific stretch of time, with Rupert believing he has either created or collaborated on 40 jazz albums with another 60 commercial sets.
“Jazz is all about being yourself and showing your style,” he said. “With classical music, no matter how you feel, you have to play what the composer wrote. With jazz music, I’m expressing myself.”
Beyond that, he is often on the road. He averaged about 300 shows per year and slowed down to about 100 since he was married and
had children. He attributes his longevity and success to several mentors, including Mel Tormé and Betty Carter, with whom he collaborated on an album with and won a Grammy for his efforts.
He jokes his career has been downhill ever since but is immensely proud of what he’s done for the past 20 years — teaching generations of musicians how to play jazz. The University of Central Florida extended Rupert an invitation to spearhead its new jazz program in 1995, just a handful of years after he had graduated college. It’s another avenue for Rupert to express his creativity and pay it forward. He thinks the results speak for themselves — the school’s jazz bands often chart in the top 50 in the national jazz music rankings.
“The groups I was playing with (in New York) were very structured and very creative,” Rupert said. “I took all that energy and built it into the (UCF) program. It consciously, or subconsciously, is modeled after the real world. … The kids are getting the kit and caboodle when it comes to understanding the insular revenue streams of music and also how recording works. Sometimes, I feel like a student on the bandstand, and I’m a musician when I’m teaching — it’s all sort of the same thing.”
The Blue Bamboo performance in late December will be somewhat of a cool down following a chaotic holiday season.
“Last month’s show was right before Thanksgiving, and we kicked off the holidays and played a swinging holidays show,” he said. “This set coming up is going to be a set of originals; it’s a detox of the holidays, if you will. … We’re going to be swinging and being cool and giving people a chance to recoup before New Years.”
The Jeff Rupert Quartet — a 15-year-old eclectic group with a player in his early 30s and another in his late 70s — puts on a monthly show at the center but makes sure to practice as often as possible. Rupert is proud of his group — his pianist Richard Drexler has performed with him since 1987 — and thinks they are talented on an international level. He said it’s not the superstar bands that are on top but rather the working bands that deliver more personable, intimate shows.
“Those bands are always the most exciting,” he said. “It’s like eavesdropping on a really intimate conversation between four really good friends. … We play together all the time, the product ends up being a little more organic.”
For Rupert, it’s always a question of evoking a particular style and mood when he plays. For the Blue Bamboo performance, he wants guests to have a feeling of beauty and honestly — painful moments and all.
“Life isn’t just fluffy clouds and unicorns; it’s life,” he said. “Jazz music washes away the dust of everyday life, and that’s important. People are going to come in and feel groovy and happy, but not in a patronizing way. … People should feel the reality of life in music. To me, that’s beautiful.”
IF YOU GO
Jeff Rupert Quartet
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26
WHERE: Blue Bamboo Center of the Arts, 1905 Kentucky Ave, Winter Park
PHONE: (407) 636-9951