Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jazz Babies

About six weeks ago I had the highest of honors awarded to me. I was allowed to volunteer and help "The Friends of Frank DeMiero." These friends (pick me! pick me!) help Frank and they create the most incredible three day learning experience at Edmond's Community College for high school (and elementary school!) jazz vocalists and musicians. Each evening is culminated by a concert at Edmond's Center for the Arts showcasing the talents of the professional and almost professional musicians that volunteer to help. These incredible musicians come in from near and far and they touch each and very one of the students lives in the most profound way.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend Wednesday doing the shuttle runs to the airport to help in the picking up and delivery of the out of town talent. First in from Osaka, Japan was Atsuko Hashimoto. A beautiful little sprite of a woman, she showed Seattle that she knew her way around an organ. Yes, I said, organ. This tiny little thing played jazz on the organ and you would swear she was making it talk, It was, in short, incredible.

Went back to the airport and did a double pick up out of Los Angeles and felt quite important standing with the limo drivers holding up signs that read Jeff Hamilton and Graham Dechter. Jeff is apparently the drummer to end all drummers. Like he is supposed to be one of the best in the world. He has played for Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, the list is endless. A big bear of a man with a very dry but funny sense of humor.

Graham is not only a very young and cute jazz guitarist, again he is at the top of the heap in this category.

Also joining us was trumpet virtuoso, Byron Stripling, local jazz vocalist Greta Matassa, Sara Gazarek and Kathleen Grace, again amazing jazz vocalists and (be still my beating heart) Marc Broussard. There was also a myriad of other singers, musicians, groups but way too many to list here. Suffice it to say, there wasn't a hack in the bunch.

OK, you are going along here thinking jazz, jazz, jazz and then Marc Broussard? Long story short, Marc did us a big favor by stepping in at the last minute for an artist that became ill.

But this is not about the artists (well, not really) it was about the kids. I spent the next three days from seven in the morning till six working with kids from high schools from all over Washington and the Soundsation students from ECC. Then attending the concerts from seven to ten.

I am here to say that as an old fogie, I don't have to be worried. And neither should you. These kids were wonderful, amazing, smart, funny, kind, talented, and helpful. Well, there was one girl but she got put in her place (don't mess with me!). All of the students that are part of the Soundsations worked their butts off. I only had to ask once for something and it was put in my hands. Not one of them said "I dunno" and walked away from me.

The first morning I was so honored to be allowed to oversee "The Vocalist Room". In this room, local Seattle Jazz Diva, Greta Matassa and her jazz trio presided over the next three days. Greta comes in with a big bag, ready for the day. She pulls out a thermos and fills up the first of many cups of green tea. And she is no-nonsense. The vocalists are given 15 minutes. We call out their name, the vocalist gives their music to the piano player, the music begins and the student sings their song choice. Greta makes notes and when the music stops she gets up and sits or stands next to the student. Greta then makes some very magical suggestions: breathe here, clip this note, stand straight, sit up, hold this note longer, do it with a Latin rhythm. Then the student sings the song over taking in consideration Greta's suggestions and voila! The song is amazing!
I am paraphrasing here because I overheard this and it's true - Greta Matassa is a musical surgeon. She does it without one word of criticism, just no-nonsense suggestions and encouragement. This woman is my new hero!

Byron Stripling stood in front of an auditorium full of students and basically explained to them the meaning of life. He never played one note in the session I was in. He held those kids in the palm of his hand as he explained to them that they were somebody, that they were important and if they wanted to become a person that is accomplished (in anything, not just music) they had to practice, practice, practice. You could have heard a pin drop this man was that good.

Marc Broussard ended the three day event with his participation in the last concert and though I realize that his soul, swamp, blues style is not for everybody, it was the knee-knocker event for me. Marc has been my ring-tone for at least two years. I play his music over and over and over. I go to see him at the Tractor. Have I made it perfectly clear to you I love Marc Broussards music? And he's not hard on the eyes.

So at the after show cocktail party I was lucky enough to meet my idol. Shake his hand, utter several inane words and have my picture taken with him on my cell phone. Yes, the photo. Ask to see it sometime. It is a great picture of my BFF Joanie, Marc with his head completely cut off and a small portion of my cheek.

And I have to laugh about it because Frank DeMiero, his family and his friends created the whole event for the kids. We estimate that over 1,100 students took part in the activities and the concerts just that weekend alone. And it is so worth it. We live in a very scary world filled with all sorts of nasty, awful things. But music alleviates the blue meanies and creates the most beautiful moods, creative thoughts, friendships and memories. This program did not judge these students, it is not juried. This program gave to the kids important tools they will be able to use in every aspect of their lives. And I was impressed, very, very impressed.

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