Pianist Adam Swanson is returning to the music venue where his college music studies ended.
He’s been a mainstay of downtown Durango’s music scene since he began playing ragtime piano in the Diamond Belle Saloon as a kid in 2006. He’s created a local silent film series, where he shows classic silent movies while providing live piano accompaniment. But he’s only played the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College as a solo performer once, playing on that stage in 2014 for his senior recital, when he played an hour’s worth of classical compositions to complete his studies and earn his college degree. It’s a room that he loves, and a preferred venue for the pianist, and he’ll return to that stage Sept. 9.
His senior recital eight years ago was a special affair, moved from the Roshong Recital Hall to the Concert Hall with the assistance of then FLC President Dene Thomas.
“I’m the only music student in the history of the college that has ever done their recital at the Community Concert Hall instead of the smaller recital hall. We had 300 students that wanted to come, and we knew there wasn’t going to be enough space,” Swanson said. “I’ll always be grateful to the former president of the college, Dene Thomas. I didn’t know what to do about my recital, she was able to rent the Community Concert Hall for me. That was very special.”
This show will also be special. It likely won’t feature any classical music like the last time he played the room, but it will feature the type of music he loves, which is decades-old music dating back a century.
People tend to throw around the term “old soul” when referencing someone who has an interest and ties to past pop culture, and Swanson truly is an old soul, someone who keeps a keen interest in prewar entertainment. That’s what you’ll get at this performance.
“I go through the history of American music, and I go up to like the 1930s and ’40s and the big band periods,” he said. “This particular concert is called ‘From Ragtime to Rhapsody,’ so it will culminate with a special arrangement that I created myself of George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ That will be the finale for the performance.”
This will also be more than music. Swanson is a collector, perhaps even a pack rat, an archivist and an archaeologist of music history from this period of time. What you’ll get with this show is historical context and video accompaniment, with Swanson talking about the pieces of music, while showing slides from his personal album of photos and other ephemera; he’s a confident historian and storyteller.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 11 years old, so I can carry a show by myself,” he said. “I tell the history behind the music and the stories, sometimes very funny stories behind the songs. I will include a historical slideshow with pictures of the composers and bands, and old sheet music covers from my collection. That’s kind of an added bonus.”
It’s all about passion. Swanson knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this era of American entertainment. Growing up, he ignored mainstream music and pop culture, instead favoring the likes of Scott Joplin and Bob Wills, and he’s proud to share that knowledge. His shows are as much of a history lesson as they are old-school entertainment.
“I love the 1920s and ’30s jazz style, you might call it Dixieland jazz, more so than big bands or rock ’n’ roll or anything else,” he said. “I’m not narrow-minded, but that’s my specialty.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.