As UB junior Marcus Lolo took the stage in the majestic Lippes Concert Hall at Slee Hall earlier this month and approached the Steinway concert grand piano, he faced the act of familiar faith that comes before you start playing.
It’s an exercise in trust and vulnerability, he says. It’s overcoming the mental doubt that accompanies her organic live performances while seeking that exhilaration that follows when connecting with her audience.
This time, however, Lolo arguably faced the greatest honor the university can bestow on a student musician. It was hand-picked to enhance the video featured during President Satish K. Tripathi’s State of University Address.
Lolo calls it the moment of truth, a cliff jump towards something remarkable, magical. Engage your audience. Move them around with a creation that makes that connection within this beautiful piece.
Spoiler alert: Lolo, a 27-year-old pianist who pushes the boundaries of the student, has succeeded. The standing ovation from those listening to Tripathi’s annual speech tipped the applause counter as much as anything that day.
“I would call it ‘take him out of the park,’” says Jonathan Golove, president of the music department, who, along with his colleague and piano teacher Eric Huebner, chose Lolo to play that day. “He was extremely composed with a sense of seriousness. He’s an undergraduate student, but he comes across as someone with more experience than you might think, a person who inspires confidence.
Before starting his original creation which served as the soundtrack for the video highlighting UB’s 175-year history, Lolo stopped and came together. The UB community watched and waited. Sure enough, those inner voices of doubt morphed into something else.
“By the time you’re engaged – as soon as I play my first note – that uncertainty goes away,” says Lolo, who came to UB as an engineer and swears to complete this degree when he completes his graduation. musical studies.
“It’s like jumping off a cliff. Are you going to fall or fly? You have already done what you needed to do, which is to play the first note. So now you are already in it. You might as well give the best of yourself.
Lolo’s best shot is impressive indeed. It gives new meaning to community-conscious undergraduates. He is the force behind a community music school responding to “a pressing need in the community for artistic expression,” he says emphatically. The well-crafted, multiplatform release of his single “Ode to Democracy” dedicated to Haitian musician Manno Charlemagne – a voice against the brutality of Haitian dictatorships – used local musicians and a locally produced video.
There is more to Lolo’s CV. But anyone interested in its power of inspiration should be there when Lolo finds himself at a piano and begins improvising versions of “Georgia on My Mind”, one more fluid and expressive than the other.
“I love Ray Charles,” he says.
Obviously, this is not your parents’ undergraduate experience.
“For me, it’s liberating and exhilarating,” he said a few days after his performance of Lippes, which included formal wear (“I like to look good, man,” he says), no music and deep and refined arches. “As soon as you step into it, you step into the groove. With every note you play, you regain your confidence that you know what you are doing.
Lolo’s mentors chose him for good reason. Golove likened the mission to a sophisticated version of the live pianist following the action for a silent movie.
With his mix of classical musical training and improvisational roots in jazz and spirituals, Lolo came well prepared. He saw the video on Monday, developed ideas on Wednesday, and performed his original piece on Thursday for rehearsal, earning approving smiles from the president’s office. The performance was Friday.
Lolo called it “Epopee Impromptu” – roughly translating to “Impromptu Epic” – paying homage to the “epic” of UB’s 175-year journey, as well as the musical roots it brings from his Haitian French upbringing. . From overture conceived as “someone falling into a dream”, to building harmonic tensions between eras, to a Disney movie motif, “Epopee Impromptu” called on audiences to follow Lolo on a journey of mirroring. that of the university, completing the narration.
“I needed something that said ‘This is where we come from and this is where we are now,’” he says. “At the end of the day, there is a cohesion between what they see and hear.”
Total development time of the musical theme: 30 minutes.
“It’s not like I came up with these ideas from scratch in 30 minutes,” he says. “I have the tools. I know what these agreements are. I know what feelings they convey. It’s a loan from years of work that I have done and the study of harmony and structure, and I borrowed from the theory course that I am taking right now.
“Not that written music is archaic, but improvised music is the language of the future. I use here devices from classical education and my tradition of gospel and jazz. I still play church every week. These are environments that prepare you to come up with creative ideas on the spot.
“It makes you an idea machine. You have to generate new ideas and play out things of your own, or at least borrow them gracefully from other people.
In addition to playing holiday music during the pre-pandemic parties at the UB President’s Residence on LeBrun Road, Lolo’s redefinition of student success continues over and over again. He is musical director at Emmanuel Temple SDA on East Ferry Street and conductor at the Macedonian Baptist Church on East North Street, considered one of the most important African-American cultural centers in western New York. Jazzbuffalo.org called him one of the emerging artists of the next generation of Buffalo jazz artists. He is Music Director of the Love Supreme School of Music, 641 Masten Ave., which provides free lessons to a growing number of disadvantaged children between the ages of 5 and 18.
The education of students who learn improvisation goes beyond music.
“They have a bigger idea of how to tackle problems in school or general life by making smart and creative decisions in the moment,” Lolo explains.
Almost everything follows the example of education and music of his parents.
“Nothing pleases me more than watching my students who could barely read two notes at a time last year go through a Bach piece this year,” he told Jazzbuffalo.
Eager to honor his accomplished mentors at UB – including assistant music instructor and Grammy Award-winning pianist George Caldwell – Lolo calls studying piano at UB “by far one of the events the most significant of my life “.
Their influence taught Lolo a central lesson about his past, present and future.
“The music in me,” he said, “was worth sharing.