Sunday, March 3, 2019

Thoughts on a Snowless Night

What a pleasure and privilege to yet again teach a one-day workshop to dedicated music teachers from a local Orff Chapter. People who “gave up” a full Saturday to have the chance to affirm themselves, challenge themselves, be soothed by the familiar, by excited by the new. From exuberant and vigorous jazz to tender and quiet expressive movement, from the childlike fun of “Roses are Red” to the adult encounter with complex body percussion, from the social networking with fellow colleagues to the reflective thought of pedagogical principles, I believe most people felt it was a day well spent. One that may echo on in their teaching and in their musicianship and even in their personal and professional lives. Or not. No guarantee, but it has happened. And often. 

I believe the first official Orff Chapter workshop I ever gave was in Los Angeles in Fall of 1984, quickly followed by Chicago. Since then, I’ve toured the U.S. presenting at most (but not all) of the local Orff Chapters. To my recollection, that would include Fairbanks, Anchorage, Honolulu, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Eugene, Chico, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Fresno, Orange County, San Bernadino, San Diego, Tuscon, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno, Boise, Salt Lake City, Billings, Denver, Pueblo, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Oklahoma (Quartz Mt.), Des Moines, Iowa City, Omaha, Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri) St. Louis, Wyoming, Bloomington, Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Cleveland, Madison, St. Paul, Memphis, Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Asheville, Raleigh, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, Washington DC, Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, Rochester, Hartford, Boston, Portland (Maine) and a few more. 

Maybe it looks like I’m bragging here, but besides the challenge of trying to recall something about each of the above, my punchline is simply this—I don’t believe I ever had a bad day at a single one of these places. Yes, the piano and the lighting could have been better (like today) in some places, but the energy and enthusiasm of teachers who choose to be better and keep growing, the volunteer spirit of the grassroots organizers working long hours for no pay, the generosity of schools opening their facilities, is all something worthy of celebration.

And then the perks of getting to taste a bit of local culture. Like the Q39 Barbecue Place my host took me too last night. And the Jazz and Baseball Museum I hope to visit today. If I can get through the snow predicted to begin at 3 am. Still on Singapore time, I’m writing this at 2:30 am and no sign of it yet. But if it falls too fast and furious, I may be spending more time in Kansas City than I planned!

And speaking of Singapore. I was so impressed by the whole complex of teaching colleges devoted to both training teachers and then continuing their training. All bought and paid for by a Ministry of Education committed to cultivating properly our most valuable resources—the children. I was hired to teach because they committed themselves to including jazz in their high school curriculum. Not just funding jazz bands for the kids with the interest in playing saxophone and such, but exposing all students to the wonders and freedoms of this American art form. In Singapore! 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., teachers struggle to get professional development funds to attend workshops like mine and jazz is not a mandatory subject in all schools. To say the least. So rather than wait for a sudden governmental epiphany, Orff folks in the cities mentioned above (and beyond) take time to insure a better music education for hundreds of thousands of children, on their own time and their own dime. And if I have my way, that will include more jazz education at each and every level. 

Especially in Kansas City! New Orleans, may have been the birthplace of jazz up through the 20’s, but no question that its teenage years in the 30’s were in Kansas City! (And the adult years in New York.) The three great jazz saxophonists of that time—Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster, all came from there, as did the next prophet of the emerging jazz styles, Charlie Parker. Count Basie (a New Jersey-born fellow) cut his teeth here and the bands of Bennie Moten, Jay McShann heated up the city on even the coldest of nights. The great pianist Mary Lou Williams, bassist Walter Page, drummer Jo Jones and so many more joined the party and the future of the music in the visionary Pat Metheny had its roots here as well. 

These some random thoughts at 3 a.m. on a still snowless night in Kansas City. May the snow plows come out as needed and all planes take off on time!

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