For a jazz ensemble in the 21st century, transposing this timeless genre is no easy task for a generation brought up on the rhymes and rhythms of rap and pop. Fortunately, Music Director of Jazz and Popular Music Brian Torff, and his group, New Duke, are the hallmark of bringing jazz fusion to the Northeast with their well-known mashups of jazz standards with artists ranging from Cream to James Brown to Pharrell Williams.

“Music is a language and if you are speaking in a language that is very foreign to the listener, they’re going to have a tough time” said Torff when discussing the difficulty of relating to younger generations of music listeners not familiar with the sounds of jazz. “So what you need to do is not water down your music but find a way to bridge those gaps.”

Torff, who has been teaching at Fairfield for the past 20 years, got his start in the jazz community in 1974 when he was offered to join Leo Claine’s band as their bassist. Since then, Torff has been invited to play at the White House for Former President Ronald Reagan, played with countless classical players such as Yo-Yo Ma and has even composed pieces played by the Boston Pops. Today, Torff has retired from active touring and finds himself at home with the students of Fairfield University and also with his new group, the New Duke Orchestra.

In 2011, Torff gathered local adjunct faculty of the University as well as various players he has met on the road to form New Duke. The group, who recently engaged in a mini-tour this December, is dedicated to fusion of classical jazz with modern influences, hoping to ascertain the attention of audiences that are unfamiliar with jazz. Unfortunately though, the group experienced tragedy this past fall when their drummer, former professor of visual and performing arts, Don Mulvaney, passed away due to complications from an accident.

“We have world shocks like what we had in Paris and we have personal shocks occasionally, we were shattered,” said Torff. “We honor him in our performances this December but what does tragedy do? It brings you closer and gives you a different perspective on life, maybe an even deeper one than before.”

A difficulty from Torff now, despite recuperating from the loss of Mulvaney, is managing to get booked and also find time to rehearse with the group. “Getting gigs is always a challenge,” said Torff. “Music is wonderful and I love it with a passion but it can’t give you everything. You have to realize at the end of the day that you have to have other things in your life.”

For Torff, busyness is key to maintaining his composure, and he thoroughly enjoys teaching at Fairfield, where he is best able to blend his passion for music with his satisfaction of providing excellence of musical education for his students. “In a way, the classroom is like a performance,” said Torff. “Whenever I bring a teacher in, I want them not only to be a great player but a really great teacher and a good communicator.”

In 2016, Torff hopes to bring New Duke out for more shows in the Northeast as well as make some time in the recording studio to produce the first full-length album for New Duke.

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