Volume 26 Number 2
Photo courtesy Ariel Alexander
Making a Band
The whole thing started innocently enough.
Ariel Alexander, a saxophone student at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, was looking for more mentoring in her modern jazz studies. When she mentioned to music professor and jazz trumpeter Pat Harbison that she'd like to see more interaction between music faculty and students, Harbison blurted out that the two of them should form a band. Alexander held him to it.
From those beginnings sprang Conspiracy Theory, a cutting-edge jazz quintet that released its self-titled debut CD last October. While the group includes three other IU students, it's anchored by Harbison and Alexander, who, with oodles of talent and perhaps even more ambition, has become a mover and shaker on the Bloomington jazz scene.
"In addition to musical talent, Ariel has a very high intellectual ability," says Harbison, who has seen many skilled artists in his 30-odd years as a professional jazz musician. "She also has an unparalleled work ethic, the ability to establish goals and create and follow a plan to reach those goals, and, perhaps most significantly, a tremendous optimistic attitude about her musical pursuits."
Now a 21-year-old junior majoring in jazz studies with a focus on saxophone, Alexander says music has been in her blood since age 3, when she begged her mother to let her take piano lessons. By fifth grade, however, she had fallen under the spell of the sax and focused on a life of jazz.
A decade later, years of effort and dedication are starting to pay off.
In addition to Conspiracy Theory (whose CD was supported by a grant from the IU Honors College), Alexander also plays in an IU jazz ensemble guided by legendary jazz musician and IUB Distinguished Professor David Baker. "Things come to you when you work hard enough," she says simply.
Alexander says she draws inspiration from numerous artists. "I get stuck on somebody for a couple of weeks. Honestly, it changes constantly. I'm always just looking for someone to inspire me," she says, noting that saxophonist Dave Liebman was currently nestled in her CD player.
A more constant source of inspiration, she says, is the team of IU music faculty who have helped her develop as a musician. That group includes
Tom Walsh, associate professor of saxophone, and Harbison, whom Alexander calls "an incredible mentor."
Alexander's acute awareness of the need for one-on-one mentoring in young musicians' lives has spurred her to get involved in Bloomington's Musical Arts Youth Orchestra, a nonprofit organization that passes the love of jazz on to new generations of enthusiasts. She says the MAYO experience has instilled in her a desire to develop into the type of teacher Harbison, Walsh, and others are for her.
"I'd like to do that some day, but I'm not there yet," she says.
Alexander's mentors say that if she sets her mind on anything, including teaching, it is definitely within her grasp.
"She has the potential to go in any number of directions. She's a talented player, she has an interest in teaching, she is a composer . . . she is already active in all these arenas," Walsh says. "Ariel's future is wide open right now."