One of the most important things we do that is funded by the Prescott Jazz Summit is to work with young people to teach them about “America’s True Art Form” - Jazz Music. Over the years we have given workshops, private lessons, and recently - assembly performances in schools. In 2010 we performed in four elementary schools in Prescott. The students loved this “new” music and the teachers, principals and even parents, said that our assemblies were completely successful, and that during our performances the students were on the best behavior that they had ever seen. We marched through the audiences, got the children to sing, and took questions from the audience about jazz music. There were some terrific questions that obviously had some thought behind them. We reached well over 1200 students with our Educational Outreach program.In 2011, we increased our assembly programs throughout the school year. We did three programs during festival week in August, and went “further afield” with our outreach. On Monday, August 22nd, we performed at Prescott High School in the very same Ruth Street Theater where we do our Saturday evening gala concert for the festival. The high school students were a perfect audience and really enjoyed our performance and the fact that we answered some questions that they had about jazz music. When it is possible, we invite a few selected students to come up to play the blues with us on stage. The students from PHS played some great solos. Dan Bradsteet the band director, gives his students lots of encouragement at an early age to learn about improvisation, and it shows! The assembly was so successful that they have already asked us to come back in 2012.
During 2011, we also performed at Franklin Phonetic School in Prescott Valley and the Verde Valley School in Sedona with great success.
Franklin is a “charter school,” which means that they have a more flexible choice in what the offer to the students than a regular public school. It amazed us to find out that about 75% of the students at the school are in the music program. Oh – if only other schools would follow suit. Trudy Gruver who runs the music program is an old friend and a real motivator of young people. Again the students were a wonderful audience and had some very interesting and insightful questions for us. I should say here that all our concerts start out with the rhythm section on stage playing a New Orleans Street Beat, and the horns come marching in from the back, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This obviously gets the attention of the students right away.
We pretty much have a set program that we do for the students at each school. We open with “The Saints,” and then talk about George Gershwin and tunes from Broadway shows and movies. We play “I Got Rhythm” and show the correlation between that and the “Flintstones Theme.” (We don’t tell them what the name of the other tune that is based on “Rhythm” is - but of course they get it right away and are amazed.) We then play the blues and usually try to get some of the students (pre-selected by the band director) to come up to play with us. We play “C Jam Blues” and talk about Duke Ellington and big bands. This is also a great way for the students to learn a “new” blues tune, since there are only two notes in the melody. Next, we talk about how ANY tune can be made into a jazz tune and how jazz music can assimilate any other music form. We do a slow version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and get them to sing along with us. Then we turn it into a swing tune. Even the high school level students have fun with this one. We now talk about how rock music came from jazz through Rhythm and Blues and ask it they know what the first real Rock n’ Roll hit was. It always is amazing that in most schools, someone knows about “Rock Around the Clock” and Bill Hailey and the Comets. (Albeit sometimes it is one of the teachers…….) We then tell them that the song was really written about 100 years ago in New Orleans and called “Joe Avery’s Blues.” We also talk about it being called “The Second Line” and used in Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans to this day. We then play it in its original New Orleans form. This is always a favorite with the young people. At this point we have the question and answer session for a few minutes. Our closing piece is Nat Adderly’s “Sweet Emma.” I talk about the fact that it was written to salute the many different forms of music that have come out of New Orleans. Not just jazz, but Rock, Zydeco and others. This tune has a down home “funk” feel, almost like an old southern church tune. We get the kids clapping and sometimes even up and moving to this music. These shows cover much jazz history and show many different styles. They have worked very well everywhere we have gone!
Our third school this year was in Sedona and is a very interesting place. It is a private school that literally has students from all over the world come to attend. It is called the Verde Valley School. It has students from elementary age through high school. There are only about 120 students here and they get a very good and intense education, as you can imagine. The new band director is Daren Burns. This is his second year at the school. He is also a very fine bass player and actually was the bass player for all our educational concerts, including this one at his own school. Since there are students from many places, this was an interesting assembly, since for many of them this was their first exposure to jazz music. They LOVED it – and when we asked for students to come up to play the blues with us, more came up than Daren expected. They had the greatest time and again there were some who were playing way above their age level, when it came to improvisation. There was one high school girl from China, who is studying opera, and had never tried to sing a popular or jazz tune – EVER! She was shy at first, but then actually got into it and scatted with us. Not only that, but on the last chorus of “C Jam Blues” she ran up, grabbed a mic and sang the melody with the horns. Things like this remind us that if more people could learn from music, maybe the world would be a better place!
The musicians who participated in these assemblies were:
Mike Vax – Trumpet and Flugelhorn, Vocals
Scott Whitfield – Trombone, Vocals
Dave Russell – Saxophone
Jack Petersen – Guitar
Daren Burns – Bass
Wes Andersen – Drums
Also at Verde Valley School – Ginger Berglund – vocals.
All contributions are welcomed. If you wish to donate to this wonderful cause please contact Mike Vax.