Jazz education through Regional Essentially Ellington festival brings out best in students

A day’s worth of learning jazz opened the eyes of many students to new techniques, ideas and abilities.

Essentially Ellington performances capped off a day of clinics, master classes and rehearsals at SIUE for high schools. Photo provided by Maegan McHugh.

Rick Haydon, SIUE’s director of jazz studies, said he thought the Essentially Ellington festival was an overall success.

“To see the lightbulbs go off on the kids all day was great,” Haydon said.

Ten high school bands traveled to SIUE to receive clinics, master classes and perform with world-renowned musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York as well as faculty from the university.

“I think it was fantastic,” Haydon said. “It went as well as you could expect for the first time around. It was purely educational from the time they came into the door to the time they left.”

Haydon credited the St. Louis Jazz Club and Jazz at Lincoln Center for making the event possible.

Tim Jarden, director of the Alton High School jazz band said it had been a great day.

“We’ve learned so much. The kids have learned [and] I’ve learned. The clinicians (SIUE faculty) and guest artists have all been great, very friendly and cooperative.

His band performed “Stro’s Place,” a blues swing tune before Derrick Gardner, trumpet soloist; Brett Stamps, former director of jazz studies at SIUE; and Haydon.

According to Jarden, the clinicians talked to them about locking the rhythm section together, listening to each other, lightening the guitar so it does not conflict with the piano and shaping the phrases.

Jarden said it could have been intimidating but the clinicians were nice.

“It was just like sitting amongst friends having them talk to us and giving us suggestions,” Jarden said.

Andrew Mc Pike, senior alto saxophone player in the Alton High School jazz band thought everything went smoothly and was so much fun.

In a master class of 40 saxophone players he said it was a blast as they locked in as a section.

“It was loud. It was a lot of fun. He [Jason Swagler] made us all laugh,” Mc Pike said.  “He would play a certain a melody or tune and we would have to figure out where the notes were on our own instruments, [and] repeat after him the exact thing. It was challenging–following the leader.”

Scotty Waldrup, junior, trumpet player from Alton High School said he thought the staff and students at SIUE and Derrick Gardner tried their best to make everybody feel at home.

“Derrick Gardner really helped the trumpets about breathing and control in playing,” Waldrup said. “They were very nice whenever they gave constructive criticism to us. At first we were nervous to be in their presence, but getting to know them we were like ‘wow their experience is rubbing off and we’re learning from them.’”

Dustin Alexander, saxophone player from Alton High School said it was a neat experience to meet with great teachers and skilled players.

He noted how fun the Improvisation class was with Ron Carter of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“He was very interesting and really funny. His whole way of talking to us was on an even level, and he was always joking around,” Alexander said.

Freshman saxophone player, Shawna Lavy, from Winfield High School said it was awesome to work with the instructors.

“It means a lot to me that they’re willing to work with us high school students,” Lavy said. “It helps me with improvisation. It is really hard and they are amazing at it. When you hear them and they keep on going and going, then they give you ideas you’re like, ‘oh’. It’s still hard, but you get ideas from them.”

She added that it is a great experience and that everyone should get [such an] opportunity.

Timothy O’Bryan, president of the St. Louis Jazz Club said their mission is trying to educate young people going forward in traditional jazz.

He said they fund scholarships in jazz studies at SIUE and the summer camps.

“We’re glad to be able to fund it,” O’Bryan said.

Maegan McHugh from Lincoln Jazz Center in New York said they were really proud to be able to co-present the regional festival in conjunction with SIUE and to bring the best musicians in the world to campus.

“It’s a free program available to high schools and now college programs across the country. We offer free resources in an effort to further the music of Duke Ellington and provide quality music programs for schools around the world,” McHugh said. “We look forward to doing this again next year.”

Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington national competition and final concert on May 7-9 will be webcast live from New York on jazz.org/live.

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