Weekend of Jazz: A Capital Idea
Last December’s column on the depressing condition of big-band Jazz in this country has drawn a second positive response, this one from Derek Maddox of Beavercreek, OH, a suburb of Dayton, who writes in part:
“Like many growing communities we face the challenge of maintaining a quality school system. Some years ago it became apparent that we were outgrowing our high school’s capacity. At that time, the school system asked the community to support a bond issue to enlarge the size of the school. Part of the renovation included a new wing for the instrumental and choral programs, as well as a performance auditorium with nearly 800 seats.
“The auditorium . . . was included in the final plans only on the promise by the school’s music director that it would be used to educate not only the students but the community as a whole. As a result, our drama department produces three plays each year, one of them a musical with an orchestra provided by the school’s concert band program. Our choral groups perform a number of times each year, while the band holds recitals and concerts quite often.
“To be honest, most of the audience for these productions are proud parents and grandparents of the performers. We couldn’t fulfill our promise to the taxpayers and board of education that way. Thus was born the Weekend of Jazz. By holding clinics and seminars we maintain our emphasis on music education for the students, but by bringing in professional groups we are able to draw a wider audience from the Dayton / Beavercreek area. They certainly enjoy the shows, and hopefully they learn a little about Jazz as well.
“The weekend starts on Thursday evening with performances by the four Jazz bands from the Beavercreek junior and senior high schools. Whenever possible, we’ve had a professional musician in the audience who comes on stage with the kids for 15-20 minutes after each session to conduct a short 'clinic,' offering advice and direction. The other bands are in the audience, so every child benefits from every session. Last year, we were amazed by what Sherrie Maricle, the drummer and leader of the all-female big band DIVA, helped our kids discover about their own abilities.
“All day Sunday, and sometimes on Saturday afternoon, we have performance sessions for high school and college bands. Every high school in Ohio is invited to send bands, as are many from northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana. These are adjudicated performances, with at least one of the judges usually a member of our visiting professional band. The 'winning' bands receive a small cash award, but far more valuable are the 20-30 minute clinics held immediately after their performance. One of the judges always follows the band off-stage and gives them feedback on the performance, along with pointers on how to improve their musical skills. Every year, we receive letters from band directors thanking us for providing these types of clinics.
“Friday and Saturday evenings are set aside for performances by the professional band we’ve invited. This is the ’community education’ aspect of the weekend. Since starting the program we’ve welcomed the Count Basie Orchestra, Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band, DIVA, and trumpeter Jon Faddis and his trio. DIVA was an amazing group, and made the point to our young women that they could play Jazz as well as the men. Jon Faddis surprised everyone by inviting one of the trumpet players from a high school band onto the stage for a little improv session.
“When the Basie orchestra visited a couple of years ago, the kids were a bit suspicious about a Jazz band made up of old men who’d played for their grandparents. But they came anyway, and the result was astonishing. The orchestra members were amazed that a group of teen-agers could be so enthusiastic about their music. The kids were on their feet, stomping, clapping and dancing in the aisles. Some of them were even dancing with their grandparents! When the band paused to let the drummer take a solo, I thought the kids from our percussion department were going to tear the auditorium apart. I’ve never, ever seen a group of kids so worked up over any kind of music. You’d have thought you were in the middle of a rock concert, except for the 80-year-old saxophonist who had the kids in the palm of his hand.