Arizona ArtBeat: Jazz from A to Z

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The Jazz from A to Z program represents a unique partnership between the Mesa Arts Center, Arizona State University’s Public History Department, Mesa Public Schools and Jazz at Lincoln Center. This segment profiles how the program uses jazz to help teach history in the classroom and provides music students and their teachers with jazz workshops and other learning opportunities.

Ted Simons: Tonight on Arizona Art Beat, jazz from A to Z, a program that represents a partnership between the Mesa art center, Arizona State University's public history department, Mesa public schools and jazz at Lincoln center. The program uses jazz to help teach history in the classroom and provide music students and their teachers with jazz workshops and other learning opportunities.

One, two --

David Majure: Jazz is considered by many to be America's most truly original art form, the basis for much of our popular music and is deeply embedded in our history as a people. It also is being used to teach history in an innovative program called jazz from A to Z.

Cindy Ornstein: History through the ages has often not been taught in the most exciting way. Unfortunately. It's our story. It's who we are. Yet too often kids don't have the perspective of it that way. They think of it as a bunch of facts and figures, a bunch of biographical information, major events, but not connected in the way that we think of really dramatic stories. Jazz music was integrated into the life of America and changed as we changed as Americans and as we grew. So the music can make the story so compelling. It's a way of making it exciting.

Mandy Buscas: This is an incredibly unique program in that it is working with not only teachers but students as well. So there is this access to learning by all ages. So jazz from A to Z is working with American history teachers to activate their curriculum through jazz. When we have teacher workshops in the high schools the jazz band is invited to demonstrate music, but also to participate in the learning. So they are building a deeper connection to history through jazz. The teachers and students that come together and they are building curriculum for their classrooms. The students come away completely excited and jazzed about jazz.

David Majure: Jazz from A to Z represents a partnership between the Mesa art center, Mesa public schools, Arizona State University and jazz at lincoln center. Based on the national endowment for the arts jazz curriculum, the program strives to create a meaningful connection to one of America's greatest cultural resources.

Marcie Hutchinson: What we're trying to do is enrich students' understanding of history through music, particularly jazz. We think of music as a primary source. Something that is from the past that speaks to us and enriches our understanding of the past. For example, we looked the undercurrents, the rebellious aspect of the 1950's, and the unbelievable genius of these black musicians who are reflecting their world at the time. Why does the music sound different? How is it a mirror of what was going on in America at that time? We analyzed a piece by one of Arizona's jazz greats, which was Charles Mingus. He wrote a piece called fables of fathers. What was one of the most amazing things that happened in that workshop was that we had a base, a renowned bass player. Eli yell Len from jazz at Lincoln center actually played fables of fathers live to really bring home the protest nature of the piece. So we got a lot of different perspectives, which is crucial to understanding history. They better understood the history because of the music.
David Majure: Another objective of the jazz from A to Z program is to enhance the musical proficiency of booth students and teachers with a director academy.

David Majure: This annual three-day workshop providers participants with teaching insights and techniques as well as hands on learning.

Ronald Carter: The goal of this program is basically to bridge the gap between education of music educators and actually jazz education. Also to fortify the concept about teaching jazz. We have seen a lot of directors become more interested in playing music from masters like Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie. Basically those concepts allow them to play any music that's out there. Really getting them to motivate the students to enjoy playing this music.

Keith Kuczynski: The two things that are stuck in my head are the concepts that we can give the kids and culture. Those two C-words are bouncing back and forth. Once you have a strong foundation and fundamental concept of what jazz is, it's really easy to build on that. You establish that love. Completely invaluable to have somebody that has sat with Miles Davis, that has had conversations with Clark Terry, and sat with Dizzy. I'm one step away from legends that have built this culture, so it's very, very cool.

One, two, one-two.

David Majure: The program also offers master classes for Junior high and high school jazz bands. At red mountain high school students were given help perfecting their repertoir for the jazz competition.

Bob Stewart: I was asked to come out and talk to the students, see what they are doing first of all. Then based on that determine what I would say. For the most part they were nailing the music. It was great. It's just great working with great band directors that are putting these bands together and continuing the legacy of jazz and the students that seem to be totally into it.

Cougar Garcia: They are amazing teachers. They describe things so well. It's just -- seeing those big names, oh, I gotta go home an start practicing again. It's really fun like that. Good to see people in the business that you can strive to become.

Alexis Pawlak: It's crazy to have someone standing like two feet away from you and who has been like been through it all. Such a big name. So famous. And you're learning from them. They are telling you you're doing it great, playing it so well. It's hard to believe that you're even like there. It's wonderful to hear them say, like, the little tips they give you and then you can take that and just totally learn from it. It's really fun.

Vincent Wedge: In this particular group, the jazz band, we hope to really achieve a high caliber of playing and help propel the kids on if they care to go or just to help them get a good understanding of great music and become great instrumentalists. We're just trying to teach jazz. The more we can teach it and bring people to reinforce it the better the kids are going to get it and the more it's going to keep growing. Stay alive.

David Majure: Keeping this Treasured art form alive for future generations is yet another goal of jazz from A to Z.

Randall Vogel: Jazz as an art form has been challenged across the country. With the way music is changing and the way art changes on a daily basis now, we have a serious challenge in keeping people focused on jazz. It isn't just some old music that it just sounds good or sounds old. It's now music that has life an meaning. But jazz is also the history of this country. When you want to talk about American slavery. When you want to talk about the roaring 20s. When you want to talk about civil rights, that's jazz. It's the people. It's the place. And it's our culture.

Ted Simons: For more information on the jazz from A to Z program visit the Mesa center for the arts website.
Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

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