Jazz musicians in Chicago had a busy weekend on Oct. 13-14. During a two-day residency at Symphony Center, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) with Wynton Marsalis presented three concerts, playing the works of Jelly Roll Morton, Count Basie and John Lewis. The capstone event, an SCP Special Concert on Oct. 14, was enhanced by special guest Jon Batiste, the popular pianist and bandleader of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” The residency was even more jam-packed — quite the appropriate phrase for the weekend — with master classes on Oct. 13 for young jazz musicians, presented at four local Chicago Public High Schools by six JLCO musicians and Batiste.
The JLCO musicians seemed comfortable in the master-class setting. The classes showcased the talents of the musicians as well as the students by providing opportunities for all of them to teach, listen, learn and play jazz standards. “Walking into a school band room is familiar,” said Batiste before his visit to Kenwood Academy in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. “It all started with caring teachers and making friends in the [school] band.”
JLCO Trumpet Kenny Rampton explained that in a master class such as the one at Kelly High School in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, musicians work with students of all levels and abilities. “Beginner, intermediate, advanced … everybody has something to learn.” Rampton said there are common elements in every workshop. “There’s always going to be a point when I say something, and then the band director looks to his students and pleads ‘how many times have we gone over this?’” Laughing, Rampton added, “sometimes I think it just takes a special guest coming in and teaching a basic fundamental for the 100th time for it to stick.”
This anecdote was later reinforced during Jon Batiste’s visit to Kenwood Academy, when he sat in at the piano for an arrangement of “Round Midnight.” After a fully realized run-through with the group, director Gerald Powell turned to his students in the auditorium and implored, “Did you hear that? Mr. Batiste has never seen that music before. He’s never played this with us before. THIS is why I tell you that reading is important!”
Chris Crenshaw, a JLCO trombonist and co-teacher at the Kelly High School master class, was rehearsing a blues riff with the group when he mentioned that the chord changes reminded him of a famous J.J. Johnson solo. It became clear that the students were not familiar with Johnson’s work, and Crenshaw encouraged the students to learn at all levels, including getting to know the jazz greats. He told students to take their craft seriously but still have fun with it.
The impact of these master classes is not lost on the music teachers. Michael McCain, director of marching and jazz bands at Kelly, noted that “we have a wide range of talents and abilities in our ensemble. Chris and Kenny were able to give everyone something to work on.”
Throughout the master class, Rampton and Crenshaw focused attention on the role of the lead trumpet. The guest artists stressed the importance of the lead trumpet’s attitude and responsibility to the band. In a reference to JLCO’s director and trumpet icon Wynton Marsalis, the musicians joked that “our band director is always telling us that the lead trumpet is the most important part of the band!” To wit, they spoke about the physical placement of the lead trumpet in a traditional big band — back row, center, pointed directly at the other lead players. Kelly’s lead trumpeter later said that the attention to her role at first made her “a little nervous, but was very exciting and helpful. It was really cool to connect with these great musicians in person!”
The master classes were presented by the Negaunee Music Institute, the community and education division of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Funding for educational programs during the 2017-18 SCP Jazz series season has been generously provided by Dan J. Epstein, Judy Guitelman and the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation.
To learn more about the Institute and its various programs, visit cso.org/institute.
Workshops presented on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017
Morgan Park High School
Director Shemeka Nash
JLCO members: Ted Nash and Carlos Henriquez
Whitney Young High School
Director Jim Barbick
JLCO members: Sherman Irby and Marcus Printup
Kelly High School
Director Mike McCain
JLCO members: Kenny Rampton and Chris Crenshaw
Kenwood Academy High School
Director Gerald Powell
Special guest: Jon Batiste
TOP: | JLCO Member Ted Nash workshops a tricky passage with jazz students at Morgan Park Magnet High School.