Brett Sawka ’17 Combines Jazz and Classical Pieces in Senior Recital

Brett Sawka ’17 has been playing the double bass since the third grade and joined the Boston Youth Symphony at the age of twelve.

Rhythmically plucking his electric bass, Brett Sawka ’17 launched into his solo of “The Chicken,” a late-nineties jazz tune by Jaco Pastorius.  Accompanied by fellow students on the saxophone, the electric guitar, and drums, Sawka alternated between low, reverberating notes and high, sharper notes. The quartet ended the lively piece in unison with a single, short note.

“I’ve never heard double bass play like that before. I didn’t know you could even make some of those notes. It was spectacular… That was wild, and then the jazz part was just amazing. I had no idea that the double bass was so versatile as an instrument,” said Natalie Yeh ’17, an audience member.

This jazz piece was one of five pieces in the second part of Sawka’s senior recital last Saturday night. Following his three classical pieces accompanied by pianist Rebecca Plummer, Sawka performed five jazz pieces with his own band, Brett Quartet, featuring Jake Peffer ’17, Louis Aaron ’18, Pickle Emerson ’20, and Sawka.

“Those [jazz] pieces really featured the bass, with good pronounced bass lines that all bassists are going to know, like ‘Oh, you’re playing “Chicken.” I know that. Of course you are playing that.’ That was the idea, stuff that I could really be featured on,” said Sawka.

During the classical part of his repertoire, Sawka played the first two movements of Domenico Dragonetti’s “Concerto for Double Bass and Piano in A Major.” Beginning the first movement with intensity, Sawka fluidly moved up and down the strings with a range of low, elongated, and fast notes, culminating into a single high note. The second movement set a contrasting melancholy mood. Sawka played soft, airy notes near the end of the fingerboard, ending with a quiet, sustained chord.

“The most challenging piece, objectively, is the Koussevitzsky piece, the third one I played, but for me, personally, [it was] the Dragonetti piece. That was just very technically challenging… it really comes just from a big lack of solo bass repertoire,” said Sawka.

Sawka began playing the double bass in third grade and became part the Boston Youth Symphony at the age of twelve. At Andover, he is the principal bass player of the symphony and chamber orchestras, as well as the jazz band. According to Sawka, Andover has given him various opportunities, including participating in world tours, that exposed him to more music genres and skills.

“Being here, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different music. [Andover] has helped most with my jazz more than anything because the jazz band is really strong, and I had the opportunity to form a small jazz group a couple of years ago,” said Sawka.