Young musicians and world-renowned artists have come together to help develop and cultivate America’s premier art form at Northeastern State University’s Green Country Jazz Fest this week in Tahlequah.
The two-day event brought high school jazz kids from across the state to perform, as well as listen to some of the best musicians in the country.
Dave Smith, band director at Oologah Public Schools and alumnus of NSU, brought his students along so they could experience what it’s like to hear jazz personalities on stage.
“My main goal is to get them out somewhere where they can see and hear live jazz,” he said. “There’s no way they know what it’s supposed to look like if they don’t see it, smell it, hear it and play it.”
Perhaps no better place for its students was at NSU this week, with acclaimed trumpeter and composer Sean Jones headlining the event. Jones, an internationally renowned performer and educator, conducted the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra before becoming a member of the San Francisco Jazz Collective. He is now president of the Jazz Education Network and director of jazz studies at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“He is one of the most sought-after trumpeters in the world,” said Dr. Clark Gibson, director of jazz studies at NSU. “I just look out there and think about what will be best for kids and who can they learn the most from, not just as a musician, but as a person.”
A grant from the Oklahoma Arts Council helps NSU attract big-name musicians like Jones. Along with him, NSU brought in two-time Grammy-nominated organist Pat Bianchi, jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Jim Pisano, vibraphonist and composer Nick Mancini, and musician Dean Merritt. The group helped judge student groups and offered advice.
“I think it’s a good experience for them,” Gibson said. “I sent my students to the Jazz Lab to lead a session, so when they’re done they can go and hang out with the kids there. So there is some recruiting, but it’s just for the improvement of jazz education across the state.
Like the American pastime, jazz has been described as the baseball of music. Many believe it to be the only truly original art form developed in the country.
“For someone like me, who didn’t learn to play jazz in school, but from this older generation who pass it on to people like me, it’s extremely important to me that I pass it on to d ‘other people,’ Gibson said. “It was very important to them that their music live and that their culture lives. The least I can do is try to keep this culture and this music alive.
For years, music history was taught in a certain way in universities and colleges. It often revolves around the leading classical figures of Johann Sebastian Bach or Beethoven. But jazz is often overlooked. Gibson said that for years black musicians have fought for the equality of jazz – for it to be as accepted as the works of 18th century composers.
“In all honesty, it’s kind of a slap in the face for all the wonderful African Americans, like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, who have created this intense, very complicated, very study-worthy music,” he said. . “And we don’t talk about it in our music history program. But that changes from university to university and it has to change. And it’s not just jazz either; it’s all American music.