January 2020 – When you speak to one of the music instructors for JazzArts Charlotte, you are talking to someone with a real love of their craft.
“Music is invaluable,” states UNC Charlotte Professor and JazzArts clinician Dr. Will Campbell, “one of the most important things in the fabric of society. When we don’t have music, society is devoid of one of the most rewarding and commonly accessed art forms.”
This month, we hear from three JazzArts Academy instructors why this level of musical exposure matters: Dr. Will Campbell (saxophone), Dr. Michael Hackett (trumpet), and Troy Conn (guitar).
There’s so much more to music
Troy Conn, adjunct teacher at both UNCC and Queens: “With jazz in particular, the music brings you to the audience. Live is important. You don’t get that experience on your cell phone.”
Jazz is America’s “classical” music, also points out Campbell. It is a part of the telling of America’s history. “But it’s not presented in the mainstream.” Jazz is rarely a priority of music education in schools. Teachers and programs are spread so thin that they struggle to be able to provide that direction.
“The internet offers more resources now than ever, but without guidance, it may be difficult to know where to begin to learn and appreciate jazz, who should someone listen to and in what order. If you start at John Coltrane’s avant-garde style in Interstellar Space, it’s too much. To compare to literature, a seventh grader doesn’t start off reading James Joyce. “
Lessons in learning music
JazzArts Youth instructors have seen the way music education affects their students in a long list of ways, some surprising. “There are studies demonstrating that music helps the brain, enhancing math, science, language, and more. I know that stuff is true,” highlights Conn. “But I think its heavier than that. There are layers of benefit.”
He describes jazz as a unique creative outlet. First, students must build a strong base of chords, rhythms, music styles, and then the confidence to explore.
“Music opens the door to so many experiences… opportunities to interact with other musicians, with other kinds of people, connect with an audience, or simply to express yourself alone in your room.”
Campbell describes it as lifelong learning. “One of biggest benefits of music is learning discipline. That is a life lesson.”
“Even with a limited amount of study, students learn how music works and what goes into being a musician. It’s not a magic trick. You don’t learn it in a couple hours. You gain the ability to discern good from bad music. There is a plethora of music that doesn’t require much skill. A student goes somewhere and hears playing and knows when it’s the real deal.”
Dr. Michael Hackett, now a professor at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, says his memories of JazzArts Ensembles are filled with “young inquisitive minds waiting for permission to succeed and the information and tools to help them do so.”
“The most powerful image that sticks in my mind is a young 9th grader named Sean [Mason] whom Lonnie insisted upon bringing into my top group to sit at the piano next to the most accomplished pianist in the program. This young man could not even walk a bass line, and I was a little impatient that he was foisted upon a much more advanced group. That young man is now performing with his own trio in places like Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Club In New York City. I can take no credit for his success other than being there to give him a chance. That is the beauty of it.” (You can read more about Sean Mason here.)
Conn describes his experience at JazzArts Camp a few years ago. “I had a wonky group that year – a trumpet, some violins, a hodgepodge of instruments you never would have put together. They came into it, like yah, I’m at camp. I picked some tunes that were pretty challenging for them. Monday, that first day, we got together and played through the songs and it was a mess. Tuesday, it was maybe even worse. It was a train wreck and I thought I might be losing them. We talked about the music, broke it down, listened to it, got beyond the notes on the page. Once we earned each other’s trust, things started to happen. I had a mom say her son came home after all day at camp, went into his room and practiced.
Everyone was doing that. I saw them teaming up with their buddies , sharing their excitement, working together on the music at lunch break. On the Saturday concert, I couldn’t believe how good they sounded. Somehow in that five days they got it – an appreciation for this music. Hugely moving. I don’t know how it all happened. I don’t feel like I did anything but expose them to this. “
Educating more than students
It’s not just about the students, though. It’s about educating everyone.
Campbell shares why organizations like JazzArts Charlotte are so critical. “Our society is set up to promote commercial music, and not necessarily distinguish artistic music. Therefore, exposure to quality jazz has to come from an organized approach and a game plan.”
Conn speaks to the importance of exposing people to quality music and to opportunities to learn about music. “It’s not about telling people what to like. JazzArts Charlotte provides access to quality performers, as well as the students. That exposure is so important to help the general public discover a respect for the craft, by having people come out and just listen.”
Hackett describes JazzArts Charlotte in one interesting word: charisma. “Once discovered, it draws people from all walks of life to want to be a part of what JazzArts Charlotte is doing. People want to be a part of something so dynamic and exciting, and that is largely due to the Founders, Lonnie and Ocie Davis.”
These jazz music instructors celebrate the impact they have experienced within the Charlotte community these past 10 years. Better still, they continue to be excited for the next step and the next set of students.