Lander University associate professor of music Robert Gardiner describes his tenor saxophone, a Selmer Mark VI made in 1959, as “the envy of other saxophonists. The lacquer is worn off and it looks old but plays great.”
The many uses of such an instrument are on display in “Soul of Confidence,” the CD Gardiner composed during the summer of 2009, recorded with his group, the Robert Gardiner Jazz Quartet, during the summer of 2010 and released this spring.
Gardiner came across the phrase “soul of confidence” in an 18th-century discussion of efforts to ratify the constitution. He said he “was attracted to the sound of it, and thought it would be appropriate for the ballad and title of the CD.”
“Soul of Confidence” is a demonstration of saxophone virtuosity, with skillful accompaniment by the others in the quartet. It is apparent that Gardiner and his bandmates, keyboardist and guitarist Bert Ligon, bassist Reggie Sullivan and drummer Ivan Edwards, have been playing together a long time.
By including selections like the attention-grabbing “Fabulous Friday,” the funky “James Brown,” the soulful title song and “Swing Valley,” Gardiner appears to be making a statement about the possibilities of jazz.
“I wanted the tracks on this CD to contrast each other, so the compositions are built on different grooves, feels and forms. They are all vehicles for us to improvise over,” he said.
Improvisation ranks high on Gardiner’s list of favorite things to do. “The solitary pursuit of performing or creating as an individual musician or artist can be very rewarding, but group improvisation in a jazz quartet with great musicians is the ultimate source of pleasure as a performer for me. It is a great feeling when we are communicating with each other at a high level and also communicating with the audience.”
Gardiner and the other members of his quartet have had plenty of practice doing both, having played every Saturday at the Speakeasy in Columbia since 2003. For six years, the Columbia Jazz Orchestra, which Gardiner established and led, played every Monday at the Speakeasy. He had a six-year gig at Columbia’s Blue Martini as well.
The Cheraw native was first exposed to jazz as an undergraduate music student at the University of South Carolina, and it has been his passion ever since. He counts saxophonists John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson as primary influences. He said that elements of each of their styles, as well as that of jazz great Miles Davis, can be heard in the music he plays.
Prior to his arrival at Lander in 2002, Gardiner served as instructor of applied saxophone and woodwind methods at Claflin University, and as director of bands at Columbia’s E.L. Wright Middle School, at Newberry High School and at Burbank District 111 in Chicago.
The father of two, who completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in saxophone performance at the University of South Carolina in 2008, called Lander “a great gig, and I am very fortunate to have it. College teaching positions are difficult to get and keep. I enjoy every class I teach and like the fact that I get to teach in a variety of areas that include music education, applied saxophone performance, music appreciation and jazz studies.”
Gardiner is also the longtime director of Lander’s Jazz Ensemble, which in recent years has turned in some sterling performances. He cites the Fall 2010 concert, with guests Reggie Sullivan on bass and Dr. Mitch Butler on trombone, as a show when the ensemble was hitting on all cylinders. “There was some really good music made that night,” he said.
Gardiner doesn’t expect “Soul of Confidence,” available through CD Baby and iTunes, to make him rich or famous. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t think it’s good.
“I worked very hard on this recording and have played with these musicians for years. I’m pretty proud of the CD,” he said.