New Exhibit at DiMenna-Nyselius Library: Seize the Beat: Music and Race in the Deep South

New Exhibit at DiMenna-Nyselius Library: Seize the Beat: Music and Race in the Deep South

Professor Brian Torff is sharing research trip photos, artifacts, and recollections in a library exhibit that will run through May 19. A concert of classic and original music inspired by his travels will be performed on Feb. 22.

Media Contact: Robby Piazzaroli,, 203-254-4000 x2597

An exhibit featuring research trip photos, artifacts, and recollections by Brian Torff, professor of visual and performing arts and co-director of Fairfield's Music program, is currently on display at Fairfield University's DiMenna-Nyselius Library. Seize the Beat: Music and Race in the Deep South opened on Jan. 16 and will be on view until May 19. 

To coincide with the exhibit, on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. The Brian Torff Group will perform a concert of classic and original music inspired by Torff’s travels. The performance will take place in the DiMenna-Nyselius Library's Multimedia Room 101.

“On the Harvard ‘On the Road to Civil Rights’ tour I took, some places were so gripping they rendered us speechless,” said Torff. “That trip changed my life and my music. I now draw on those influences, for they have become friends and sources of inspiration. You can hear the music in these photos.” 

After a career as a jazz bassist and composer that began in the mid-1970s, Torff now creates music as a songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. He has played with Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, Stephane Grappelli, and Marian McPartland, among others. Torff now focuses on acoustic guitar, harmonica, loop pedal, and his upright stick bass to create a different sound. 

A professor of music at Fairfield University since 1993, his research trips to the deep South have impacted the lyrical stories he tells through his art. Torff's jazz memoir is called In Love With Voices. His most recent book, Seize the Beat: The Evolution of American Music, is used in his classes on American popular music.  “I love working with words," he said, "so songwriting was a logical next step.” 

Combining on his experience in jazz, blues, and rock with a country-folk influence, Torff feels that “we need to create new musical categories.” 

His band, The Brian Torff Group — with Wes Lewis, tenor saxophone, and Ryan Sands, drums — plans to film YouTube music videos this year. “I hope that our music,” said Torff, “is a soundtrack to an American road trip, past and present.”

About Ryan Sands | drums:
Ryan Sands has performed domestically and internationally in Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Prague, London, Shanghai, and Italy, to name a few. He has worked with Geoffrey Keezer, Wayne Escoffrey, Tamir Hendleman, Terell Stafford, Jimmy Bruno, and Phil Markowitz. A rotating member of the critically acclaimed Christian Sands Trio for the past 7 years, Sands is also a part of the New York-based music collective Altus, where he serves as the primary drummer. 

Sands attended New England Conservatory of Music and graduated with bachelor of arts degree in jazz performance. A proud endorser of canopus drums and paiste cymbals, he attended Manhattan School of Music as a graduate student and graduated with a master’s degree in jazz arts. 

Wes Lewis | tenor and soprano saxophone:
Wes Lewis is a PhD candidate in computational biology and bioinformatics at Yale University, and a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s 2023-24 Artist Corps grant. He is the principle saxophonist of the Yale Jazz Ensemble and actively performs with several groups, including his own quartet and the collective Trance Macabre. Lewis grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester. Since moving to New Haven in 2019, Lewis has performed Mingus’ “Epitaph" alongside the Mingus Big Band, as well as with local greats including Jessie (“Cheese”) Hameen II. He has also studied with multiple Grammy Award-winning musicians, including Wayne Escoffery and Abraham Burton. 

The Seize the Beat: Music and Race in the Deep South exhibit was curated by Brian Torff and the DiMenna-Nyselius Library.

No pre-registration or tickets are required to attend the 7 p.m. Brian Torff Group performance on Thursday, Feb. 22, but seating will be first come, first served.

Posted On: February 7, 2024

Volume: 55 Number: 57

Fairfield University is the modern Jesuit University, rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 36 states, 47 foreign countries, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are enrolled in the University’s five schools. In the spirit of rigorous and sympathetic inquiry into all dimensions of human experience, Fairfield welcomes students from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and engage in open conversations. The University is located in the heart of a region where the future takes shape, on a stunning campus on the Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.