'A Song for Robin'

Long-time Rogue Valley jazz man Robin Lawson will be celebrated in "A Song for Robin," which is a new jazz composition, as well as the title of a mellow evening of jazz at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, in the Southern Oregon University Recital Hall.

The song was composed by Martin Behnke, a retired Willamette University professor now living in the Rogue Valley, and performed by his SOU Jazz Ensemble, along with a jazzy "Silent Night" and other pieces. Two student combos also will perform.

"A Song for Robin" is a jazz tune in the Latin style, which Behnke played for Lawson's widow, Pam and, with her blessing, he "turned it into a full-blown jazz ensemble," says Behnke.

Behnke mentored Lawson in music arrangement for Camelot Theater's "Spotlight on Mel Torme" and notes he wants to use the song to "focus on Robin, who was one of the main jazz piano guys in the valley and, for decades, did a lot of playing with all the jazz people here."

Behnke began the song after Lawson's Aug. 9 death at the age of 70 from a rare brain disease, adding, "I feel my spirituality allows me to say Robin might have had something to do with it — and it incorporates his type of playing."

Pam Lawson notes, "We kidded around that maybe it was inspired by Robin, It's very much like his work — rich chords with complex arrangement "¦ I thought it was very respectful and heartfelt of him (Behnke)."

SOU combo director Steve Davidson will perform a saxophone solo on the piece. The 17-piece ensemble also will perform "Boogie Stop Shuffle," by Charles Mingus, "Pay the Piper" by Shorty Rogers and "Cayenne" by Bob Curnow.

The combos, led by Davidson on saxophone, will perform "traditional, small group fare," said Behnke, including "Stolen Moments" by Oliver Nelson, "Groovin' High," by Dizzy Gillispie and "Summertime," by George Gershwin.

In addition to teaching at Willamette for 26 years, Behnke, a trombonist and pianist, taught on the faculty of the Mount Hood Festival of Jazz Instrumental Workshop. In 1985, he received an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship to study composition with Norman Dello Joio, and in 1999, an Oregon Council for the Humanities Research Grant to present the life and music of Duke Ellington for the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Beyond Category.

Tickets are $5, free for students and are available by calling 522-6101 or at the door. Visit www.sou.edu/music for more information.

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