Friday, April 13, 2012

The Future of Jazz: The Pioneer High School Jazz Band Takes New York City

An awful number of magazine articles and blog entries focus on the future of jazz, the aging of the jazz audience, and the popularity of the music in a world of hip hop, electronica, and other newer forms of music. Certainly there are issues to deal with, and certainly other types of music have larger and more youthful audiences, but at least for one day I saw a much more upbeat side to the story.

Jazz Band
Today, the Pioneer High School Music Department from Ann Arbor, Michigan brought its award winning Concert Band and Jazz Band to the atrium at the IBM Building in New York City for an afternoon concert, and put on quite a show for an enthusiastic midtown crowd. Tomorrow night, the crown jewel of the music department, the Pioneer Symphony Band, will be performing on-stage at Carnegie Hall. 

How good is the music program at Pioneer? Well, in 2006 and again in 2011, Pioneer was selected as THE National GRAMMY Signature School  by the Grammy Foundation, making it the number one music program at the high school level in the United States.

While the concert band was great, my interest today was in seeing young and upcoming instrumentalists tackling some of the great pieces of jazz of the 20th century, with outstanding ensemble play as well as some terrific solos by selected members of the band.  The jazz band played about a half-dozen songs, highlighted for me by "Four" by Miles Davis, "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" by Duke Ellington, and a rousing finisher in "Manteca" by Dizzy Gillespie. Even with only so-so accoustics in the atrium, it was clear how together the band was, how spirited the players were, and how outstanding were the solos. I took some video but it does not really show the quality of the music; this clip of "Manteca" from an earlier concert -- -- will give you a better sense of the group.

Concert Band
Four soloists really jumped out during the concert -- Takeo Cauley on the baritone sax brought an incredibly mellow tone to a very difficult instrument to tame; Adam Olshevski on the bass had a full woody tone and incredible dexterity; Jesse Lemon's trumpet had great range and the strength to overcome the accoustical challenge; and Eddie Codrington took a few beautiful turns on the tenor sax. (Apologies if I spelled any names wrong)

One can only hope that the Pioneer Jazz Band represents just one of many such jazz programs throughout the country, albeit one of those at the pinnacle of success. Under the able leadership of David A. Leach, this band is demonstrating that jazz is truly America's music with its roots in the black american culture of the turn of the last century and in the works of Ellington, Gillespie, Davis and others, that its history and great compositions are still relevant today, and that this music will be in good hands going forward if people are exposed to it at an early age.

A great big thank you to you all for bringing the music to New York and entertaining us this afternoon.


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