Adam Meckler is trying to breathe new life into jazz music.
The 28-year-old St. Paul resident fondly refers to the days when jazz was considered a part of mainstream "pop" music—an era when a jazz piece like Louis Armstrong's 1964 rendition of "Hello, Dolly!" could top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
But as jazz became increasingly artistic, self-referential and technical, Meckler said, its popularity fell away. Meckler hopes he can help reignite some of that mass appeal with a free concert at 7 p.m. on March 20 at Eagan High School.
The Adam Meckler Orchestra—an 18-piece big band group—will play alongside three EHS jazz bands during the Eagan High School Instrumental Music Department's annual Spring Jazz Concert.
"It's really important that as jazz musicians we reach across the aisle to people who really didn’t grow up playing music," Meckler said. "I want people to leave thinking: 'That was so much fun, I want to hear that again."
Meckler, 28, grew up listening to R&B, gospel, rock and Motown hits, and studied music and composition at the University of Minnesota. He formed the Adam Meckler Orchestra just over a year ago, and began composing original pieces for the ensemble. Much of the music Meckler writes for the band is "through-composed"—meaning it develops an idea over a 10- or 15-minute song, rather than relying on a repeating song structure with a chorus and verses.
Even though big band music is widely seen as an "old man's art", Meckler says, many of the musicians in his band are in their 20s or 30s. Meckler, who also plays trumpet, said the appeal of composing for a larger ensemble with a greater variety of instruments originally sparked his interest in big band music.
"I’ve always loved playing with big bands," Meckler said. "I love composing and I've composed for a five-piece group for a long time, and I just thought it would be a lot of fun to try and compose for a lot of different colors."
Meckler's band will likely perform five pieces over a 45-minute performance during the larger jazz concert on March 20 at the high school.
“I love working with high school jazz bands and middle school jazz bands," Meckler said. "I love seeing the kids beginning to experience the music. I remember being in their shoes."