Tulsa’s jazz scene lost a good one a few months ago, when pianist Steven Schrag began graduate studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. After arriving in town from his native Texas to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of Tulsa, Schrag becam
e, among other things, a strong presence in the Oklahoma music scene, working with the combos at theWednesday noontime Jazzwich shows, anchoring the Tuesday night jam sessions, and appearing as the pianist for many shows in the Jazz Hall of Fame’s Sunday evening concert series. He also headlined and produced numerous concerts at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, including the December 2012 Dave Brubeck Memorial Tribute Concert and co-producing a show dedicated to Oscar Pettiford’s original work with legendary composer and musician, David Amram.
His musical cohorts on many of these appearances were bassist Jordan Hehl and drummer Nicholas Foster; they collectively backed many vocalist
s in addition to gigging at the Depot and elsewhere around town as the Ghost Quartet.
Now, with the first semester of grad school under his belt, Schrag’s back in Tulsa long enough to reunite with Foster and Hehl for a Sunday concert at the Jazz Depot. He likens the upcoming experience to old friends picking up a conversation they started when they last saw one another, even if it was months ago. “That’s how I feel about it,” he says. “We’ll pick up the metaphorical conversation right where we left off. I miss them a lot, and it’ll be great to rejoin the trio.”
In fact, Schrag actually made his return to the Jazz Depot stage a couple of weeks ago, even though his appearance wasn’t only unadvertised, but unexpected.
“I was in town very briefly a couple of weeks ago. I flew in to Dallas, which is where I’m from originally, and drove into town to pick my brother Michael up from the University of Tulsa when his semester ended,” Schrag explains. “So I got to stop by the Tuesday night jam at the Jazz Hall of Fame. It was a real treat for me, to have the opportunity to stop by and see everybody. Jordan and Nicholas were holding it down with the house band. Mike Leland was doing a great job on the piano. Tim Shadley also stopped by.
“I didn’t let anybody know I was coming,” he adds with a laugh. “It was fun.”
He will not, however, say that his unannounced presence after months away from the building caused a stir.
“That’d be awfully self-aggrandizing,” he says, laughing again. “But I’ll tell you what: It is a little odd not to be there every week. I miss being able to see those guys and playing at the Jazz Hall all the time.”
“Of course, research and reading and studying are my first priorities right at themoment,” notes Schrag, who’s attending the Annenberg School on full scholarship. “But, you know, I don’t know how long I could survive without playing music. I’ve found a little place near my house where I get to play at a jam session occasionally, and that’s been a nice outlet.
“I will say that I’m totally lucky to be at such a great institution, surrounded by brilliant researchers and really interesting minds,” he adds. “The first semester has been quite an adventure, very exciting. It’s a totally new environment, and it’s only going to get better when I go back for next semester. But the past couple of months have been a little bit overwhelming, so I haven’t had a chance to really explore the Philly music scene. I will soon, for sure.”
Meanwhile, he’s delighted to be back in a musical environment he knows very well, if only for a short time.
“I’m looking forward to working with Jordan and Nicholas again,” he says. “I think it’s going to be real comfortable. I only wish I could stay here longer. There are a lot of great people in Tulsa.’
Steven Schrag: The Ghost Quartet Returns is set to begin at 5p.m. Sunday, January 5, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from http://www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Winter Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.