Updated: May 6, 2019
Written by Jose Benjamin Montaño and Stephanie Parker
At 21, Colin Hancock is backed by a résumé that many post-collegiate musicians would certainly envy. Considering his most recent performance at the San Diego Jazz Festival and the recreation of the first jazz album with his most recent ensemble—the Original Cornell Syncopators—his profile is certainly built on strong foundations. When we sat to discuss his past experiences, however, what came out of him was more a feeling wide-eyed curiosity and a genuine passion for his craft, rather than the air of pretense that one could expect from players of a certain caliber.
Decked in a baseball cap and a black hoodie sporting the letters of his fraternity, he explained that it was the art deco album covers of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet that first enticed him to listen to jazz. “I decided that I wanted to play the trumpet, so I convinced my parents that I would actually play it”, he said, “And they got me one from like a pawn shop in south Austin. I didn’t really practice that much, I just wanted to play for a few years.” Once in high school, though, his peers in the jazz band and a supportive director eventually pushed him to take it more seriously. Soon he was playing professionally.
His keenness for the sounds and technologies from the past paralleled his growth as a musician. Passionate about attending to every detail, he soon bought himself an original Edison phonograph from the early 1900’s. He embarked on an intensive project, recreating music by Buddy Bolden using the same techniques used one hundred years before. “Early on it was all about physics, and sound waves, no electricity at all,” he explained. The original recording process was in fact completely acoustic and required playing music into a horn to amplify sound, and then etched into wax.
“There’s a certain warmth and liveliness to [vinyl records], because of the way they recorded back then. They would often use just one microphone– in the electrical era– which was a much more intimate experience of recording than everybody in their own booth in a studio.”
When talking about the challenges of recreating lost music he said,“You have to not let other influences cloud what you play.” In some sense, his craft truly is from another era.
When the itch to perform struck at Cornell, Colin formed the Original Cornell Syncopators with help from Professor Paul Merrill. Recruiting musicians who were equally as fascinated by early jazz seemed like a challenge at first, but Colin’s enthusiasm for the music was infectious. Each musician in the band shares the mindset that, “If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna give it our best.” And that they have, with their recent release of Wild Jazz. Working with Electric Buffalo Records, the Original Cornell Syncopators recorded the album in Lincoln Hall in pursuit of the best quality sound.
The Original Cornell Syncopator’s release is available through digital media, even though Colin and the band have a deep respect for physical music. Though MP3s and streaming are here to stay, Colin noted how, “The physical action of buying a record, putting the record on the record table, playing the record, flipping the record to the other side” have been lost. “There’s a certain warmth and liveliness to [vinyl records], because the way they recorded back then. They would often use just one microphone– in the electrical era– which was a much more intimate experience of recording than everybody in their own booth in a studio.”
Looking towards the future, Colin brought up modernist jazz. Distinct from modern jazz, modernist jazz experimented with augmented chords. A major player in the genre was Red Nichols, who not only developed new techniques within the genre but gave many other musicians their start. “If I could an experiment with jazz next year, it would be that.”
It is clear to see that Colin Hancock will continue to make waves in the jazz community and the Cornell Syncopators’ new release is a delight. Take a listen on Spotify or Apple Music today.