The newspapers wrote, “Jammin’ with Yamin,” and you know, it really was. It’s my dream and mission for jazz education to feel like the real thing–as creative, adventurous and rapturous as performing it and that’s what’s happening at The Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. I’m so grateful for this wonderful festival that provides the opportunity for this to happen for people of all ages. I loved all the students I worked with from the high school jazz bands in Moscow and Asotian as well as the elementary schools I performed at in Pinehurst and Moscow. Then there were the hundreds of students attending my workshops in Free Improvisation–what a thrill, and Jazz Culture and Swing Rhythm. Special thanks to Theresa Meacham of Franklin Elementary for bringing over 60 3rd graders to sing the blues with us. Your students are fearless and soulful!
And all this led up to the climax of our festival week with the blossoming partnership between The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and The Jazz Drama Program, the non profit I co-founded in 2003. Now in its third year at the Festival, this time we received the support of the University’s Theater Department and set up shop in the campus’ Hartung theater. This gave the students the unforgettable experience of working in a professional theater on their production of Holding the Torch for Liberty, the jazz musical about women’s suffrage by myself and Clifford Carlson. Five schools participated in the production: Clarkston High School, Charles Francis Adams High School (British Columbia), Lincoln Middle School, Moscow High School, and University of Idaho—musicians and teaching artist/mentors. The students sang, danced, acted and played in the pit orchestra. Many worked on the songs 3 weeks prior to the festival but then everyone stepped up big time to stage the show in a 5-hour rehearsal the day before the performance. Hats off to choreographer and co-director, the formidable and spirited Kyle Rustabakke as well as assistant musical director and trumpeter extraordinaire, Kyle Gemberling, vocal coach and featured singer (more and more raucous each time-and that’s a good thing), Rachael Lewis, and dance captain and Miss Liberty with a capital “L”, Brittany Isaacson. The heavy lifting for production coordination, costumes and everything else was carried out with joy, grace and laser beam focus by Jami Riener. Also thanks to our partner teachers Bill Legg from Clarkston and Tricia James from Pullman who also served as narrator-2 years in a row! Huge thanks to Education Coordinator Dwina Howey for setting all this in motion as well as Artistic Director John Clayton for his positive vision for the present and future of the festival and the man willing to take a chance and win with Jazz Drama, Executive Director Steve Remington. Also thanks to Festival Board member Ellen Delevan for her steadfast and enthusiastic support.
With such a whirlwind production schedule, it was amazing to see how this team of students and pros joined forces to tell the story of the fight for women’s suffrage in the language of jazz. Jazz and theatre show us the way to work together toward a common goal and find and celebrate our shared humanity. May this work continue to thrive in communities throughout the Northwest and the rest of the world.
Enjoy the photos from our friend Skyler Patterson….and highlights from participant surveys…
What was your favorite part of participating in Holding the Torch for Liberty?
“The feeling of being a professional.”
“Working with college students.”
“I loved working with a different kind of music than I’m used to (jazz) and working in a professional setting. It helped me and I learned a lot.”
“Coming together with several other people from all over. And the jazz music was really great too!”
Watching the students progress and bond.”–Teacher
“I really liked how professional it was. Since we didn’t have so many rehearsals, we had to take it upon ourselves to get stuff learned.”
“Incorporating the message while playing, communicating and working together as a team.” –Musician
“Seeing the growth from last year.”–Musician
“Getting to listen to other older voices and being able to work with them.”
“I liked how supportive people were when people made mistakes.”
“Being able to pull together as one group.”
“Meeting and working with new people to make jazz.”
“Efficiency, great music, unity, focus, enthusiasm (from every single person!)
What was different about working on this jazz show compared to other music or theatre shows you have worked on in the past?
“We weren’t babied with everyday rehearsals for weeks and we weren’t given a ‘cookbook’ musical.”
“It’s the only musical that combines jazz with a positive message about American Culture.”—Musician
“The music is jazz and the musicians are an important part of the show. I just loved the music so much and the awesome improvisation every time…! It was also a great jazz concert.”
“There’s a lot more free movement and attitudes with jazz.”
“The feeling, the soul, the energy.”
“The emotion in the music and the freedom to add things.”
“The art of it and the way it was put together.”
“My favorite part was learning the Wildcat Strut.”
“The improv. of the band added so much emotion.”
“[Jazz] helped us get into character because it gave us feelings to portray.”
“The instrumental music is shared with the vocal music, not just support. It was fun and helped the actors emote.”
“How everyone put in 100%, and not depending completely on the teacher but on helping one another when help was needed.
Describe one thing you learned:
“Don’t be afraid to be yourself or ask questions.”
“I learned that jazz is isn’t all thinking on the spot. It is full of feeling that supports you.”
“Things can be learned fast and efficient if you have focus.”
“I learned to work cohesively with total strangers. It was really FUN!”
“How quick we can learn with no interruptions.”
“I learned more about women’s suffrage.”
“I learned how to swing.”
“I learned that jazz can teach more about life than music [by] itself.”
“Reignited my passion for jazz in general. I learned that playing jazz is not about playing perfectly all the time, but being in a fun conversation with others of similar interest.”—Musician
“Creating communities can be that easy if you put in the effort.”–Teacher
“I learned how to teach kids in a positive way that doesn’t require yelling or negativity! I also learned to try new things each time I’m on stage.” –mentor
“I learned good vocal things to make my voice better.”