After hearing numerous reports from musicians about how successful their performances at some of the schools were, I decided I’d better catch a few myself – after all, they were free! Witnessing several of the concerts gave me the opportunity to see the value of these performances,. especially for schools that do not have music programs, and students who may rarely have the opportunity to see live music performance.
The first performance I attended was at the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan and featured the Jimmy Owens Quartet – trumpeter Jimmy Owens, bassist Jamil Nassar, drummer Neal Smith and guitarist Michael Howell. The quartet performed two separate short concerts for a full auditorium.
As Owens finished each selection he spoke about the different components of jazz music. He identified the rhythm section, and discussed the ways musicians can change the rhythm to communicate a different feeling and sound. He spoke about self-expression and its role in improvisation and had each musician demonstrate improvisation, so that the uniqueness of each style of playing was apparent to the students.
Owens spoke about the universality of jazz, giving the students a quick summary of some of the countries he and other band members had visited. He described the musical influence of each of these places – demonstrating how, for example, calypso was incorporated into jazz.
The teacher who had helped arrange the concert leaned over during the concert, remarking that she was impressed not only with Owen’s musical performance, but also with his ability as a teacher.
Watching The Millennium Messengers perform at P.S. 258, a junior high school in Brooklyn, was definitely an educational experience. The auditorium was full and the audience was lively. Once the Messengers began their rendition of “My Girl,” led by Gary Lovett, the energy in the room was directed to full participation. The band not only performed but interacted with the audience – giving away CDs and inviting students to participate in some demonstrations.
MC Grey, Sam Jacobs, a mentor to bandleader Stanley Banks for many years, gave a short demonstration of how hip hop developed from African Drums. Volunteers were selected from the audience to use the sampling machines. MC Grey showed the audience how to sample sounds using saxophone riffs played by band member Sue Terry. Next, he asked the students to incorporate the sample and programmed record scratching sounds into the music played by the band to create a rap song, led by MC Grey himself. At the end of the show children came up to the stage to look at instruments and ask the musicians questions. “You know when you’ve reached a child.” Banks said.