In some narrow circles the backbeat has been given a bad rap. It has been misappropriated into some of the worst music ever --- though it shows up in some of the best. It has been frowned upon as lowbrow and pedestrian. Yet the backbeat provides the rhythm for virtually all music. Don't fear the backbeat.
Eastman School of Music seniors Ian Fry and Michael Chiavaro are helping to ease the stuffed-shirt stance on this beautiful beat by sponsoring the Second Annual Backbeat Awareness Week.
"One of the points of the festival is to show that it literally does show up in all music," says Fry, a percussionist and classical music major. "Like jazz, for example, still has beats two and four --- which is the backbeat --- ingrained in that style. We're trying to show this type of music encompasses every single style."
Fry and Chiavaro kicked off the festival last year amidst administrative frowns.
"Well in a place like Eastman, it's a conservatory so they can get pretty conservative there," Fry says. "So people look down on things like pop music. Pop music has this stigma that it's just out there to make money when obviously with anything you can make it as good as you want it, as in-depth and as intense as you want it to be."
And apparently the school doesn't dig renegades either. Fry and Chiavaro and their motley crew of backbeat boosters were almost immediately shown the door.
"They kind of thought of it as being a little disrespectful," says Fry. "We started playing in the main hall in Eastman and right when we started playing they said, 'You can't play in here.' So we just went outside on the street."
So these backbeat purveyors, being of hearty stock, played outside every day for a week.
"Well, it was pretty much the only place we could play," says Fry. "Everyday we played outside in the cold so everyone would walk by and say, 'What the hell is that? These guys are crazy.'"
The event was well received enough to warrant round two. School opposition has subsided slightly this year. Though still not officially sanctioned by Eastman, some of the festival shows were actually booked through the school.
"We're trying to make this very worth their time and let them know that we're serious about this," Fry says. "We want to take this to a more astute level and let people know that it's a serious style of music."
But Fry, who is also studying tabla (an Indian drum), isn't just hung up on the backbeat.
"I think we're showing we can play all the styles well and really have passion for it and not just be lame about it," he says. "Any music is music."
Yeah, especially the backbeat.
The Backbeat Festival runs Saturday through Friday, February 12 through 18. All performances, except the last, are free.
TatYana, Saturday, February 12, The Pita Pit, 311 Alexander Street, 10 p.m.
Outdoor Backbeat Survival with TatYana, F.U.G., and guests, Monday through Friday, February 14 through 18, at the Gibbs Street benches in front of the Eastman School, Monday, February 14, at 12 p.m., and Tuesday through Friday, February 15 through 18, at 12:30 p.m.
Backbeat Ensemble plays the music of Motown, Wednesday, February 16, in room 120, EastmanSchool, at 9:30 p.m.
Blues night w/Rude Jackson & Friends, Thursday, February 17, in Ciminelli Lounge, EastmanSchool, 7 p.m.
Jersey Band, Friday, February 18, at The Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue, at 8 p.m. Tix: $5. 454-2966
For more info: www.backbeat.rudejackson.com.