In 2003 I co-founded The Jazz Drama Program to support the idea of creating new jazz musicals for kids to perform for their peers. This work brings all the things I love together in one place–jazz, theatre and watching kids grow! The program has had many successes over the years in 64 performances in 4 states and 2 countries including premieres of five original jazz musicals by myself and Clifford Carlson and involving literally thousands of children. We want to keep this going and see it grow but need your help to do so. If you are in the New York area, please consider joining us at our first ever Summer Gala Sunday, June 3 2-5pm at Urban Stages, NYC with special guest Mercedes Ellington, honoree, latin jazz pianist and arts education leader, Dr. William (Willie) Rodriguez, and a presentation of scenes and songs from our new release Holding the Torch for Liberty, about the women’s suffrage movement. We would love to see you. For more information about the CD, stay tuned….
What a magnificent week at the 45th Annual Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. It’s an amazing gathering of fans, musicians, students, volunteers and staff creating a soulful jazz village in the sparsely populated and somewhat remote region of northern Idaho. Joy permeates the atmosphere as Lionel Hampton’s beaming face and burning mallets shine down on us from every lampost in town. Over 6000 students travel to the festival to perform in the Kibbie Dome, attend workshops and concerts. It was my pleasure and honor to join forces with the above crew of musicians and singer/dancers to perform in 3 area schools on Tuesday. We opened with Hamp’s Hey-Ba-Ba-Re-Bop in an arrangement from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s forthcoming We-Bop Family CD. Then we launched into songs and dances from The Jazz Drama Program’s forthcoming release, Holding the Torch For Liberty, about the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement with early jazz/ragtime style music by yours truly with lyrics and book by Clifford Carlson. The story of suffrage resonated well in the schools and we picked the show up again on Friday adding 15 middle and high school students to the mix for a more fleshed out presentation culminating on Saturday in downtown Moscow’s classic Nu-Art Theatre. In the middle, I coached 3 middle school bands including my favorite from Sitka, Alaska. A great jazz program there. And also, found a great young bassist from Lewiston, Idaho in Talia Howey. The daughter of the festival’s Education Director, Dwina Howey, the fruit falls close to the tree. These ladies swing swing swing on their respective instruments and we are all the better for it. I also gave 2 workshops on Jazz Culture and Swing Rhythm based on my 2010 article in Chamber Music America (attached) and a workshop on Free Improvisation, heavily influenced by artistic and educational titan and Middle School Jazz Academy Master Master teacher, Warren Smith. This material and a heap more is coming down the pike in a Middle School Jazz Academy Curriculum currently in preparation for dissemination. I loved hanging and jamming with great colleagues at the festival including: Sherry Luchete, Matt Wilson, Josh Nelson, Kevin Kanner, Rosana Eckert and Ben Williams. It was an absolute knockout to hear Paquito D’ Rivera and Anat Cohen perform together with the University of Idaho Big Band as well as Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band–tearing it up in the huge athletic arena. 87-year old Haynes was projecting his soaring life force far and wide thrilling all generations. The festival was closed up by the serious dance grooves of Tower of Power. My feet were in heat! for sure. Artistic Director of the festival is John Clayton and what a sublime vision he brings to this beacon of jazz present and future. I can’t think of a better way to honor the drive of Lionel Hampton himself. This is a festival built by a titan and continued by a vision. May it continue to thrive and inspire. Hats off to Executive Director Steven Remington and the Board of the festival. Keep up the great work and THANK-YOU ALL.
It’s amazing to receive this bulletin from our trip last Spring to Montenegro with the quartet and Nora’s Ark. What an unbelievable time that was!
And now I’m excited to be returning to Idaho on Monday for my third trip to participate in the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. It’s an amazing festival with 8,000 kids from all over the northwest and top jazz acts from all over the world. Best thing is, I get to create with some of these kids–from the University of Idaho, and from nearby schools in workshops in Free Improvisation, Jazz Culture and Swing Rhythm and Jazz and Drama–The Jazz Drama Program on the road. We will be doing excerpts from our new musical Holding the Torch For Liberty about the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement with original early jazz/ragtime style music. It’s going to be a hoot!!!
The Jazz Drama Program began rehearsals with students at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music on October 24th and continued weekly for seven weeks leading up to the recording session at Avatar on December 11.
It was amazing to watch the transformation of the students. They went from talented youngsters to poised pros in such a short span of time. Teacher Lisa Gwasda writes, “We all had such an amazing experience, and I thank you for choosing my students and for giving us this rare opportunity! We are all still raving about it! I look forward to working together in the future!!”
This is the pinnacle of why I co-founded The Jazz Drama Program….creativity, access, excellence.
I wanted jazz with all the spirit it summons, excellence it demands and community it creates available to all children. These photos represent a great moment of triumph in this effort.
Now you can join our efforts by supporting The Jazz Drama Program, a non-profit, 501 c3 organization. Click on the link below and thanks for supporting young people and jazz!
We have launched a campaign through the website Kickstarter to raise funds to record Holding the Torch for Liberty, our jazz musical about women’s suffrage. Please help us reach our goal by December 31. The way Kickstarter works, if we don’t reach our goal, we don’t get any of the money. Please help us today. You can donate online or via sending a check. Watch the video with WBGO Radio personality Rhonda Hamilton and spread the word. Thanks!
Seventh grader Tatiana performed in Holding the Torch for Liberty. Tatiana writes:
“I learned that in 1920 women had it tough. If it wasn’t for their boldness, power, optimism and courage, women wouldn’t have the rights they have now. This experience has changed me by allowing me to visualize through dance and music, [sic] it helps you find your inner voice and soul, it keeps you motivated on the weekends and it teaches you to be focused and to concentrate.”
I grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey near the famous Crossroads Theatre. One of the few theatres in the U.S. that focuses on African American theatre artists, I reveled in the joy of the music and the depth of the drama. Slow Dance on the Killing Ground to Bubblin’ Brown Sugar had me enthralled. Around this time, I also fell in love with jazz. I was mystified and motivated by the swinging sounds of Basie, Duke, Billie, Abbey, Benny and Monk. Luckily I found my way to make it my profession, first in radio at WBGO Jazz 88, then as a musician and later as an educator. For over 25 years I’ve been fortunate to be deeply involved in jazz around the clock. For much of this time I’ve done my best to share my love of this amazing music with people who might never have heard of it. For some reason, in the U.S., the place that created jazz, many young people never hear these amazing sounds. That’s why a schoolteacher named Clifford Carlson and I started The Jazz Drama Program (http://www.thejazzdramaprogram.org), a program that combines jazz and theatre to get young people immersed in the beauty, surprise and wonder of jazz.
With nine years in residence at a public school behind us, and a non-profit organization to support us, we got to make a professional recording of Nora’s Ark, the jazz musical just last year. The music is blues, bebop and swing. The story is right up the kid’s alley–accepting difference, working together, overcoming obstacles, singing the BLUES. Kids love it! And because of the CD, they are performing it in schools from Santa Fe to Tupelo. We even had one production in Montenegro in central Europe!
Now we are recording our second musical, Holding the Torch for Liberty. It’s about the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement with early jazz and New Orleans style music. Great professional musicians have already laid down the instrumental tracks and now we are rehearsing young singers at Celia Cruz High School for Music in the Bronx. I’m sure the final mix will be off the hook. We are recording on donated studio time at the top NYC studio, Avatar and Jim Anderson, Grammy award winning engineer is helping us out too. Here’s where you come in…
We have raised over half the money, and need to raise eight thousand more to fully fund the project. Will you please join us? Help kids get to know jazz. Help communities feel the magic of music and theatre with this new musical about a great American story. The story of women fighting and winning their right to vote!
Please join us and thank-you,
P.S. Watch the cool short video about the project featuring my longtime hero of the radio, Rhonda Hamilton from WBGO and share the link. Thanks!
It was a dream come true to have the opportunity to continue an idea I first tried out over 20 years ago at Rutgers University. “JazzSpeare” combines scenes from Shakespeare with a live, improvised and interactive score. Here’s my quartet with Todd Williams, tenor saxophone, LaFrae Sci, drums, Mary Ann McSweeny, bass and myself on piano collaborating with actors from the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Company with Chris Edwards, Associate Artistic Director lying down, Jason O’Connell (Knees) Gabra Zackman (standing). The program was sponsored by The Fordham Consortium, Fordham School of Business’ convening of global leaders to discuss and explore the purpose of business. This 2-day Fall meeting explored Business and the Arts. It raised many important issues on collaboration, creativity, interaction, listening, responding, the inherent value of the arts and the practical value of the arts.
What a beautiful evening it was on the Yonkers Waterfront on August 12 in concert with the blues band. For the first time, we added trombone and were knocked out by the soulful contributions of trombonist Chris Washburne. This concert also featured vocalist Charenee Wade, her first time appearing with the band since the Guatemala Jazz Festival in February and tubist Channel Crichlow, her first time appearing with the band since the Rhythm Road 2010 Tour of the Balkans. Blues Band veteran LaFrae Sci was in full effect and for I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free we were joined by a young Yonkers resident with a fierce and rock solid stomp/clap. THE AUDIENCE WAS A DREAM joining in and breathing with us on every move, every tune. The weather was perfect and it felt as if we could play on and on…WE LOVE YOU YONKERS!
Thank-you to the Yonkers BID for sponsoring the concert and Steve Sansone, Executive Director and his assistant, Noe.
Photos by Kerry Kehoe
I had a tremendous time in Crete, Nebraska leading a workshop as part of Arts are Basic. This program sends teaching artists into schools throughout the state to partner with classroom teachers to create an experiential unit of study for students around a work of art. The photo above was taken by participants taking part in the visual component of the workshop led by my colleague, artist and teaching artist extraordinaire Barbara Ellman.
I’m so grateful to Barbara for recommending me to Rhea Gill, director of Arts are Basic and this tremendous community of artists and educators in Nebraska. The two days we spent together were truly magical.
Our focus of study was a music/drama/poetry performance piece inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and performed by members of Soul Lyrical, a Kansas City based group, represented by vocalist Angela Hagenbach and pianist/composer/vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watson. They brought a treasure trove of music, spoken word and narrative. It was my task to lead teachers, and teaching artists teaching towards this work ideas about how to structure a unit of study that students can sink their teeth into. On the first day, we focused on Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes and Fats Waller. We explored how to follow the contours of Bessie Smith’s blues line, to more fully appreciate the range and subtleties of her emotional expression.
We set Langston Hughes poem “Negro Speaks of Rivers” to music and we experienced swing as a rhythm, a time period and as an incredibly challenging thing people do by staying in sync with another. For this we jumped some rope in trios and compared the experience to Fats Waller and his Rhythm performing “The Joint is Jumpin'”.
I've Known Rivers by Langston Hughes I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
On the morning of the second day, I asked if anyone had any dreams or reflections.
Storyteller, Rita Paskowitz, offered the following poem she had written overnight. It knocks me out!
in my living room
in the fall of 1977.
I put my key into the lock
opened my front door
and heard his magic fingers
jaunty and sly
inviting me in
like he was going to share
my dirtiest secret
with the world
if I lingered
in that hallway
So in I came
like a jitterbuggin’ fool
in full agreement with the beat
he had in mind.
I had no idea
I was getting myself
those forty-odd years ago
but when I heard his name
just yesterday morning
it wasn’t just the joint
that was jumpin’…
It was also my heart.
Building on the work from the day before, participants created and scored stories of their own personal heroes, people in their life who, like artists of the Harlem Renaissance, had overcome major obstacles to achieve excellence. Final performances cut to the core of the of why we make art. Inspired by the artists of the period and performers from Soul Lyrical, creativity flowed with phenomenal focus and strong intention. Personal stake in the art was unshakable.
Huge thank-you’s to everyone involved in Arts are Basic including Doane College in Crete where the workshop took place. Thanks to Rhea’s terrific assistant Petrina Arneson and Rhea who, between her own dance studio, teaching at the college and directing Arts are Basic, is truly a pillar of the arts community. It’s always a treat to meet like minded folks throughout the globe. We are everywhere and especially in Nebraska!
For the third year in a row I spent a week performing and teaching at Litchfield Jazz Camp in Kent, Connecticut. It was a wonderful week immersed in jazz. It’s always a treat to be surrounded by so many young people so eager to learn and experiment with the language of jazz. I love seeing how each student makes this language their own. It shows me how enduring our art form is. In addition to working with students, I performed two concerts with the tremendous faculty of the camp including director Don Braden, Claire Daly, Claudio Roditi, Joris Teepe, George Schuller, Mike DiRubbo, Chris Allen, Pete McEachern, Russ Johnson, Nilson Matta, Roni Ben-Hur, Steve Johns and Champian Fulton. What fantastic week it was full of art!