By Della Elliott
Ten years ago, a then-13-year-old Chase Morrin gave the premiere performance at Cuyamaca College’s jewel of a theater, now known as the Samuel M. Ciccati Performing Arts Center.
On Monday, Aug. 27, Morrin returns at 7:30 p.m. to Cuyamaca College to perform the music of GaPi, an enthralling fusion of jazz and Korean folk music that last year won the Korean equivalent to a Grammy. It is the first concert of the college’s fall semester.
What started as a friendship at the New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston turned into a full-fledged collaboration between the former child prodigy-turned-jazz pianist/composer Chase Morrin and DoYeon Kim, a South Korean virtuoso on the gayageum, a traditional instrument of her homeland. Morrin, 24, and Kim released their first album of original compositions in 2017 and toured South Korea, where they were nominated for best Jazz Cross-over at the 2017 Korean Music Awards.
“I met DoYeon at New England Conservatory three years ago through a mutual friend and the first time we sat down in a practice room and improvised together, we realized that there was something special to explore,” said Morrin, adding that the pair will talk about the cross-cultural collaboration in their music at the Cuyamaca concert. “From there, we started meeting every week, working through ideas, orchestrating, and discussing the traditions of our instruments and how to connect aesthetics.”
Morrin, whose mother, Cindy, is a counselor at Cuyamaca, last performed at the college in 2013 during a semester break from Harvard University, where he completed a double-degree program in 2015 with a bachelor’s in computer science and a minor in neurobiology, and a master’s in jazz studies at NEC. All the while continuing a frenetic schedule of performing, composing, conducting and recording, Morrin earned a second master’s in piano performance at Berklee College of Music’s Global Jazz Institute in 2017.
He has amassed an impossibly long list of accolades and accomplishments, including four ASCAP Young Jazz Composer awards; film scoring and composition awards through the Music Teachers’ Association of California and the Young Composer’ Guild. He also received the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Gerald Wilson award in 2011 for his big band composition, “Mumphix,” and classical and jazz composition awards from the National YoungArts Foundation.
Morrin first connected with Cuyamaca College as a child when his mother introduced her gifted son to then-music department chair and current Vice President of Instruction Pat Setzer.
“Chase Morrin has blossomed from something of a jazz child prodigy to a gifted and serious composer and performer,” Setzer said. “His interests range from jazz to avant-garde to music from around the world, and the concert at Cuyamaca College with Korean artist DoYeon Kim will touch on all three.”
Morrin, who has played four times at Cuyamaca, praises the 360-seat performing arts theater as a beautiful concert venue with great acoustics.
“I’m really excited to bring GaPi here for the first time,” he said, adding that the music was extremely well-received during their South Korean tour.
“People were shocked and excited, especially about DoYeon’s approach to the gayageum. People appreciated the novel ways she was approaching the sound and challenging tradition.”
GaPi’s sound is dramatic and dynamic, highlighting the intensity of the gayageum and interweaving improvisational and composed music. Morrin acknowledges the significance of the musical melding of the two cultures.
“Music is a powerful tool to bring people together, share ideas, and learn to respect and understand cultural differences,” he said. “Since music historically reflects the many aspects of societal struggle, our duo presents a method for dialogue and connection. The depth with which we probe our differences and commonalities through music is a process we advocate for any situation.”
As Morrin prepares to return to his home in Boston, his mind is occupied by upcoming projects, such as establishing a music school in Greece for the children of Kivotos, an organization that takes in and educates young orphans, refugees and other trauma victims.
Called Kalesma (the calling), the project was founded by a close friend Vasilis Kostas, a world-class laouto player form Greece. Morrin traveled to Athens in the summer to perform in a nationally televised concert to raise funds for the school and scholarships to send three children for a weeklong summit in 2019 at Berklee College of Music.
Also on Morrin’s plate is the Music Alliance Project, which brings classical and jazz musicians together in a comprehensive and experiential way.
“This is a project I am presenting to schools and organizations as a pedagogical and collaborative process bringing musicians from different backgrounds together,” said Morrin, who launched the alliance by providing individual lessons for three months to four classical string players and three jazz musicians to teach them elements about each other’s music style. The hours of instruction culminated in a recording session of material ranging from fully notated chamber music to completely free improvisations.
For someone who started in music largely self-taught, Morrin’s focus on music education is a bit of an irony. As an 8-year-old, he began teaching himself how to compose music on a toy keyboard from Costco that his parents gave him for Christmas.
Like Schroeder from the “Peanuts” gang and his toy piano, Morrin and his first keyboard were inseparable.
Lucky for jazz lovers, that musical union remains as strong as ever.
Cuyamaca College is located at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in El Cajon. Tickets for the Aug. 27 concert are $10 for general admission and $5 for students and reserved seats. Call 619-660-4288 for reservations.
— Della Elliott is communications director for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca College District. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.