The Bumble Bee's View of the Garden:
Opinions on Jazz and other topics
Just as one finds all kinds of life in a garden, when one takes the time to look carefully, we can see signs of cultural life that may not make it onto the evening TV news.
A few weeks ago there was a truly remarkable concert at Lowell High School. It was the Northeast District Junior Festival. Every year, in the four districts that comprise the Massachusetts Music Educators Association, there are Senior Festivals and Junior Festivals. The Seniors are for youngsters in grades 9 through 12, the Juniors for those in grades 7 through 9. Young musicians from all over each district audition to be able to perform in the orchestra, concert band and chorus. In the Northeast district, which is roughly north of the Charles river and east of the Asabet, there are over 80 school districts from which between 1400 and 1500 young musicians auditioned for the approximately 500 openings in the Festival ensembles. Those are some impressive numbers to think about. Next time you have to vote on money for your school system and the question of funding for the Music Department is part of the calculations (as it almost always is) keep in mind that the mostly public school educators who organize and present these Festivals volunteer their time for this event, and many others as well.
Not only were these young people well rehearsed and courteous, they played and sang wonderfully. The orchestra played on a level equal to or beyond most college level groups, and these are middle/junior high school students. I feel the same way about the concert band and the choruses, but what makes the orchestra even more extraordinary is the fact that so few systems have string programs any more. If anyone needed an argument in favor of music (and all the arts for that matter) in our schools, all they have to do is attend these Music Festivals, listen to the beautiful music and see all these self-disciplined, courteous and truly delightful youngsters in action.
While the All-District Festival was taking place at the High School, over at UMass Lowell there was another gathering of young musicians. This was the finals of the IAJE senior Jazz band and choir competitions. IAJE, as regular readers of this column know, stands for the International Association of Jazz Educators. Through out the year Jazz ensembles from all over the state compete for the privilege of performing at the Hatch Shell, in Boston in May, this year on Saturday, May 27. Again, I found a high degree of musicianship combined with positive attitudes. Not all of these young people are destined to become professional musicians, nor do they intend to. The music is just an important part of their lives for its own sake and for the sense of achievement it gives.
Since then I have had another encounter with Jazz in a school setting that introduced me to some of these high school players a few years down the road. At MIT there was a three day celebration of the 70th birthday of Jazz trumpeter and educator Herb Pomeroy. Why would a technological and scientific institution celebrate the birthday of a Jazz musician? Well, MIT has had a Festival Jazz Band for many years. Although it is an extracurricular activity it competes in the major collegiate festivals and does so with distinction. Herb Pomeroy had a lot to do with that, since it was under his direction that it went from being a poorly organized group of students struggling on their own, to a band that has won major competitions and traveled to major Jazz Festivals, like Montreux, in Switzerland. I could probably write several columns on the distinguished career of Mr. Pomeroy, but that will have to wait for another day. My point here is that many of the fine players of this band, all of whom are deep into studies of engineering and the sciences, are former members of the grade and high school Jazz bands represented at the IAJE Finals. I should also say that if you have a chance to hear the MIT band, do not pass it up.
I have reported here in the past of the activities of the Merrimack Valley Jazz Society, of which I am an active member. I would like to invite you to the second annual Spring Jam Session of the Society, which will take place at the Borders Book Store, on the DW Highway in South Nashua, NH (603-888-9300). The date is Saturday, June 10 from 1 to 4 PM. There will be live music with several musicians from the area and all players and singers are invited to participate. This will also be an opportunity to join the MVJS and support its efforts in bringing the Jazz community in the Valley closer together and in establishing a permanent scholarship for incoming freshmen in the Music Department at UMass Lowell. If you enjoy Jazz, please come and meet some of your music loving neighbors, hear some good music and support an a very worthwhile organization. I will be taking part, but only for the first hour, since I have to give a lecture later that afternoon at the Center for the Arts in Natick. It is as bit outside of the Merrimack Valley, but right on Rt. 27, less than a mile south of Rt. 9. At 4 PM I will give a lecture on "The Importance and Influence of Tadd Dameron," and, at 8 PM, a concert of music by Dameron, and some of those he directly influenced, Benny Golson, Gigi Gryce and Horace Silver. Tadd Dameron was a key player in the Jazz developments of the ‘40s, commonly known as Be Bop, and although generally forgotten today, he exerted a tremendous influence on the small group Jazz of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. His own music, as one would expect, is delightful; and although some of it very challenging for the player, it is always most accessable for the listener.
Paul Combs, Vyü Magazine, vol. 5