Eastman student's commitment to early jazz runs deep 

click to enlarge Eastman School of Music student Gavin Rice is an early-jazz practitioner and collector of more than 50 vintage instruments dating back more than a century. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Eastman School of Music student Gavin Rice is an early-jazz practitioner and collector of more than 50 vintage instruments dating back more than a century.
Eastman School of Music student Gavin Rice loves the Jazz Age. Like, really loves the Jazz Age.

To call him obsessed with the music, technology, and fashion of the 1920s is to get even closer to the truth.

The 19-year-old wears original antique clothes daily (the only exception frequently being reproduction pants faithful to the era), which he tailors himself using a Singer sewing machine from 1921. He even starches his own collars to get as authentic a look as possible. During a recent visit to his apartment near the Eastman School, Rice wore a vintage “day suit,” complete with a striped shirt and starched imperial collar, silver patterned cuffs, a square tie, a vest from 1899, pants with suspenders, a dark coat and a straw hat.
click to enlarge Rice explains the mechanics of his 1925 Victrola Credenza, which provides a more "live" sound than earlier phonographs. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Rice explains the mechanics of his 1925 Victrola Credenza, which provides a more "live" sound than earlier phonographs.
He also collects and restores vintage phonographs, the predecessors of modern record players. The machine that sparked Rice’s obsession was a 1916 Edison Diamond Disc phonograph given to him as a gift when he was 12. But the device had seen better days, and was missing its tonearm, crank and front grill. He decided to fix the machine and replace the parts.

LISTEN: Gavin Rice talks jazz on WXXI's Connections with Daniel Kushner and Derrick Lucas of Jazz 90.1

Rice, a Cape Cod native, owns more than 50 instruments that are more than 100 years old. His most prized instrument is an 1865 baritone saxophone made by Auguste Feuliet, who was the apprentice of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. Rice says his bari sax, which he bought on the online instrument marketplace Reverb, is one of only two that were made.

Rice’s collection is so extensive that he regularly borrows from it to supply his extracurricular early-jazz band, Gavin Rice and His Famous Collegians, with authentic period instruments. He and the band have even hosted a dance at the University of Rochester, something he plans to continue in fall 2023.
click to enlarge Rice plays his Weymann #6 tenor banjo, circa 1925. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Rice plays his Weymann #6 tenor banjo, circa 1925.
At Eastman, Rice is a double major in music education and jazz performance, concentrating on upright bass.

“My goal is to be a jazz educator, talking about more than what is talked about nowadays, because early jazz is a dying breed,” said Rice in a recent Zoom interview. “And I would like people to learn more about the history of jazz (aside from) the three main people — Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton.”

In addition to being a full-time student, Rice works at Bernunzio Uptown Music and is an assistant professor of early jazz at Syracuse University. He also serves in a similar, though unofficial, teaching role at Eastman.

Fellow Eastman School student Misha Studenkov, who plays piano as one of the ‘Famous Collegians’ in Rice’s band, said the bandleader’s close-to-comprehensive understanding of jazz is impressive.

“He’s one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve met about any individual kind of jazz, with the early jazz style,” Studenkov said. “He’s incredible at the other styles of jazz. He plays almost every instrument proficiently.”
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
And while Rice’s fashion sense might be viewed as eccentric by Eastman students and faculty alike, Studenkov says the early jazz specialist is respected. “People know that he's a nice guy, that he's super passionate about what he does — a great teacher, mentor, all of those things,” he said.

Before entering his junior year, Rice said he’ll spend the summer arranging songs for his band to play by drawing from 1920s stock arrangements and customizing them with his own compositional elements (a standard practice in that era). He’s also working on finishing a solo album he calls “Home Recorded Hot Jazz,” on which he plays every instrument in multitrack arrangements created on the digital audio software Logic Pro.

Studenkov added that Rice doesn’t restrict himself to the limited technology of the ’20s. “He uses modern technology,” said Studenkov. “He plays video games in his free time, and that’s certainly not a 1920s pastime.”
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
While Rice isn’t longing to return to a lost decade of music and culture, he does think the Jazz Age is still relevant today.

“I do a lot of things that represent the past. I record wax cylinders, I run a 1920s jazz band, I dress in all original clothes,” said Rice. “I don't want to say I'm stuck in the past because that’s a very closed mindset — but although I live in 2023, I'm doing everything I can to bring 1923 to now.”

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].
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