Fetz X-Tet combines Latin, pop, swing and jazz styles

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FARMINGTON — As a lifelong music educator, Teun Fetz, the director of instrumental music at San Juan College, has spent a lot of time working with students and community members in the various groups the school sponsors in genres ranging from orchestral music and big band jazz to rock 'n' roll and African drumming.

He enjoys the variety and rewards of those experiences, especially watching his students develop their skills and their appreciation for a range of styles. But when he has time to perform music for his own enjoyment, Fetz loves sitting down behind a drum kit and collaborating with fellow music professionals in exploring relatively obscure musical styles that don't receive a lot of exposure in the Four Corners.

Fetz first indulged that urge in the formation of Funkified, a New Orleans-style band that has been performing in the area for the last three years, especially during Mari Gras celebrations.

Now, he's setting off on another musical adventure with his latest band, the Fetz X-Tet — a Latin, pop, swing, soul jazz and acid jazz combo — which will make its debut this weekend. The group consists of several of Farmington's better-known and more accomplished players, including Delbert Anderson on trumpet, Alex Olivas on tenor saxophone, Robyn Woodard on keyboards, Tom Maddox on bass, Amber Swenk on vocals and Fetz on drums.

The combo's set list is eclectic and intriguing — it ranges from tunes by jazz icons Miles Davis, Chet Baker and John Coltrane to the funk and soul of Earth, Wind and Fire, the Rev. Al Green and Marvin Gaye, with occasional forays into pop with material from the rock outfit America and the legendary songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Fetz makes no apologies for those wide musical swings, explaining with a smile that he likes to keep his musical options open.

"I love everything," he said. "I'm not a huge rap and heavy metal guy, but I respect the artistry behind all musical genres."

As a drummer, Fetz said he gets a lot of fun out of playing pop and soul tunes.

"The thing that drives me is the groove," he said. "I love finding a pocket with a bass player."

Fetz also recognizes the value of stretching himself and others.

"I feel like it's important to be well versed in a lot of different styles," he said. "It's important to push ourselves to be better and learn different styles. But it's also important to have fun. So there's a balance."

Though the group does not perform original material, the Fetz X-Tet is no mere cover band. It interprets material and attempts to take some of it in entirely new directions, with Anderson and Olivas mixing in a good dose of improvisation.

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"It's not a tribute to any one band," Fetz said. "It's definitely a hybrid of styles and genres. We definitely have things that work well and are effective."

Fetz personally recruited each member of the band and values his performers as much for their demeanor as for their talent.

"I think it takes the right personnel," he said of the challenge of leading a successful band. "I picked them specifically because I like them. They're fabulous people with fabulous talent."

He cited the advantages of being surrounded by other people who take the music and their responsibilities to each other seriously.

"I think that's an important thing," he said. "Not that you have be best friends and agree on everything, but it's important to play without tension."

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Fetz appears to have succeeded in putting together a lineup that meets his expectations in that regard. Though it remains to be seen whether the group will find a significant local audience with what Fetz acknowledges is an experimental set list, he's pleased with the chemistry the group has generated in rehearsals.

"When you find that balance, it's really rewarding," he said. "It's not hard to find that with these guys because they're really good musicians."

Fetz, for one, seems to be having a good time already.

"Life's too short to play crappy music," he said, grinning. "If you put the work into it, you might as well enjoy it."

The Fetz X-Tet will perform at 4 p.m. July 28 during the Music in the Shade series at Wines of the San Juan, 233 N.M. Highway 511 in Blanco. Admission is free. Call 505-599-1422.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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