By Katy Bourne
Way back when I was a kid growing up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, I played alto saxophone. I first learned to play in elementary school, where a couple days a week, we would be excused from our regular class to go to the cafeteria where the aged and beloved Mr. Hartman gently worked with us on embouchure, time signatures, scales, etc. (I have a vague recollection of playing “Ave Maria” again and again and again.) Unfortunately, the only way to continue instrumental music education past elementary school was to be in the middle, then high school marching band, which in Ponca City was basically an accessory to the football team more than a focused music program. On top of learning songs, we were required to also master new choreography for each and every football game. We would drag out to the field for early morning practices or sometimes after school, when the September sun was a scorcher. On games days, we had to wear itchy, blue wool suits, which were hot, uncomfortable and looked about as attractive as a female police officer’s uniform. The band director was mean, plain and simple. I don’t remember his name. I do recall that he was short and would snap, snarl and froth at the mouth. He would scream at us if we didn’t get the requisite moves down correctly. I could never remember the choreography and not being a multi-tasker, I found playing and marching at the same time to be almost impossible. I was often the target of the angry band director’s wrath. Being young and at that point, unconscious of a musical world beyond Oklahoma, I drew the erroneous conclusion that if I was going to play the alto saxophone, then this was the best I could hope for. I was miserable and gave up playing. There was no one around spinning John Coltrane or Charlie Parker records. “Jazz” was not in the musical vocabulary in Ponca City, Oklahoma in those days. (Er, and probably still isn’t.) I was unaware that playing the saxophone could be fun and that music could be hip.
Thankfully, things couldn’t be more different for my boys, ages 10 and 14. The Seattle Public Schools offer some of the most outstanding jazz programs in the country, at both the middle and high school level. Two of the most notable are Roosevelt High School, directed by Scott Brown, and Garfield High School, directed by Clarence Acox. (My oldest son is a freshman at Garfield and is a member of the jazz ensemble III there.) Both of these schools offer in-depth jazz education as well as multiple opportunities for students of various skill levels to play in an ensemble and/or big band and to gain valuable performing experience. The level of musicianship of these young players is truly amazing, and both of these programs turn out some of the best jazz bands in the city. There are many opportunities to see these groups perform. Here are few upcoming dates for the Garfield Jazz Bands:
December 8, 2007 11:30am
Seattle Center House Stage
Garfield Jazz Ensemble II opens their performance season with a free concert of holiday music.
Winterfest-Seattle’s Best Jazz
December 14, 2007 8:00pm
Seattle Center House Stage
This free concert features James Caddell, Lisa Loud and Darren Motamady, backed up by the Garfield Jazz Band I.
Tula’s Jazz Club
December 16, 2007 3:00pm
2214 2nd Ave.
Under the tutelage of Jay Thomas, the Garfield Jazz Ensemble III makes their second public performance. The Jay Thomas Big Band follows immediately afterwards.
If you’re not familiar with these groups, do not for a second let the fact that they are students dissuade you. These kids have some serious chops. You will be delighted by solid jazz performances from any of these groups. It is very important to support all of the school jazz programs here in Seattle and attending performances is a great way to do so. My friend, jazz photographer Ron Hudson, said it best, “They’re the ones who will perpetuate the music”. Please consider dropping by one of these performances. Do it for the kids.