Jacobsen to bring songs ‘with an American accent’ to Massey mini-concert

Spending summers at Chautauqua Institution when he was growing up, Jared Jacobsen was inundated with American music — fitting for “the most American place in America.”

Jacobsen, Chautauqua Institution organist, will bring pieces with an American flavor to the season’s last Massey Memorial Organ mini-concert at 12:15 p.m. today in the Amphitheater. The program is titled “With an American Accent.”

“For me, it’s an embarrassment of riches because there’s so many pieces I’m dying to play and there’s not enough time,” he said.

Most people gravitate to music by dead composers because it’s comfortable; Jacobsen, however, said he has always been interested in music written in his lifetime. Today, he will perform works by friends, acquaintances and people he reveres, all the while paying respects to the music that former Institution organist Robert Woodside introduced to him.

“I’ve sought out especially music written by people in my own time and place,” he said. “It’s kind of an homage, in a way, to growing up here. It’s an homage to this location — the geography of this instrument in this great American place.”

One such piece is “Air” by Gerre Hancock, with whom Jacobsen crossed paths many times growing up. Hancock wrote “Air” for his wife, Judith, also an organist and performer.

“It showcases the quieter, colorful stops of the organ,” Jacobsen said. “‘Air’ is one of my go-to pieces when I want to get settled down in my own head.”

Jacobsen will also showcase Charles Ives’ “Variations on ‘America,’ ” as well as the “$50 chords” of his friend Robert Hebble, who incorporated flavors of the Jazz Age, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky into his music. Hebble wrote the music for the opening of Garden Grove, California’s Crystal Cathedral, a piece titled “Heraldings,” that Jacobsen will bring to Chautauqua. The trumpets in the Crystal Cathedral send sound spinning over the congregation, an effect Jacobsen hopes to replicate in the Amp.

“You can be like a cowboy in there with a lasso … you can do that with a sound in there,” Jacobsen said. “I can set sounds spinning over peoples’ heads.”

Jacobsen will also play a new piece by Carol Williams, who occupies the bench Jacobsen once claimed as San Diego’s civic organist, titled “Non Fat Latte.”

“[It] is just a romp,” Jacobsen said. “It’s kind of fun, it’s jazzy, it’s got very driving rhythms. It uses the organ extremely well.

Watch the Daily‘s video “The landing light” to learn more about Jared Jacobsen’s job as Chautauqua’s organist.