Review: Jazz swings the Octagon

Barnhart and Souvigny performed in the Octagon Center for the Arts on Monday night. 


“Kicking and screaming, we’re going to bring jazz back!” yelled Donald Homer McNeil, an ISU alum and host of the excursion.

McNeil had hosted this workshop and event before in Denver, Colorado. Similar to the 9 previous events of McNeil’s, the performance focused on the difference in music between the 1760s and the 1960s.

“I am the luckiest man alive … with two fine jazz men here” McNeil said.

Daniel Souvigny and Jeff Barnhart performed at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames on Monday afternoon. With a full house, Barnhart and Souvigny laughed at each other across the pianos while playing. The crowd all sitting around, tapping their foot to the beat and shaking their heads in amazement. Souvigny and Barnhart did not use sheet music during the entire two hour set. With how fast their hands were moving, they would not have had time to look up at the music.  

McNeil stood between the pianos, explaining each composer and their pieces. McNeil would play a tune on his iPad, then Barnhart or Souvigny would jump in playing snippets. Souvigny and Barnhart played a few of their original pieces, explaining their music.

Souvigny and Barnhart later performed at the Octagon Center for Performing Arts on Monday night. Sitting in the audience before the program started, one could hear all the other attendees reminiscing about the last time they had heard this type of music.

As soon as 7:00 p.m. tolled, off went the pianists. Flying up and down the keyboard, each string vibrating louder than the last. Laughing and smiling as they played. The two were very comfortable with each other, able to joke around between sets.

As the night went on, one could tell how unbreakable the bond was between Barnhart and Souvigny while playing together. They would hand signal and mouth words to each other while playing. This was not the first time that they had shared a stage, nor will it be the last.

“He’s only 17 years old, how can that be?” Barnhart asked.

Souvigny might be young, but has a very bright and long future ahead of him. Souvigny plans to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston in the fall, continuing his studies in music and performance. Barnhart will continue to tour with his wife, flutist Anne Barnhart.

Both Barnhart and Souvigny were dressed properly for the occasion with suits and ties, but what stood out was Souvigny’s blue, horn-back crocodile oxfords. The shoes aligned with their closing song, a request from McNeil called “Happy Feet”.

Souvigny is well known for playing the piano, but he also plays violin.

“It’s just amazing what he can do” said Dennis Wendell, longtime friend of Souvigny on his first-time hearing Souvigny play the violin.

Monday night, Souvigny performed all types of styles of music, everything from jazz and swing to blue grass on the violin.

McNeil had three parting phrases for the crowd: “Be safe, make the music only you can make, and don’t defer joy.”