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Prestigious jazz education program works with Buffalo school students

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

One of the most prestigious jazz education and outreach programs in the world is spending time with some Buffalo Public School students this week. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz is visiting three city schools. As part of our Focus on Education reporting. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the Buffalo School District was one of only five school districts across the United States selected for national jazz workshops.

Students at the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts on Masten Avenue in Buffalo had an unusual start to their school week.  Students were fired up during an assembly program as they were treated to a concert and lesson about jazz.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students treated to jazz concert at Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.

Dr. JB Dyas is the vice president of Education and Curriculum Development at the Theolonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles.  The organization travels all over the country to provide "Peer-to-Peer" jazz education program.  In the assembly, Dyas gave Performing Arts students a step-by-step explanation of how great jazz music comes together.

"Jazz teaches important American values, like teamwork and the correlation of hard work and goal accomplishment and unity with ethnic diversity, and there's probably no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble because its individual freedom but responsibility to the group," said Dyas.

Several high school students who make up the traveling Theolonious Monk Institute band, performing before students and holding workshops across the country.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Dr. JB Dyas, vice president of Education and Curriculum Development at the Theolonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Los Angeles works with jazz students at Buffalo's Performing Arts school.

"So we have these young kids coming from Los Angeles who are the same age.  They're sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school and they look their audience and they talk like their audience, so there is this trust.  Now if I go in and say hey you need to get your act together, find your passion for something, believe in yourself, go for it. They're not going to hear me, but when these kids, who are the same age, they listen to them." said Dynas.

The band includes an accomplished jazz player, Antonio Hart, an internationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist and GRAMMY nominee.

"I feel like my job is just to talk about those little nuances the things that take the music to the next level," said Hart. "But just try to show them from me really the passion that I have for the music still and what it takes to be a professional musician, you known in terms of repertoire, and more importantly just the love of what we are doing."                        

While speaking to students on-stage, Hart discussed making his dreams come true as a jazz player. He's traveled the world playing his sax and encouraged students to follow their dream even if they are living in low-poverty situation.

"I think it is important to say I come from humble beginnings to let them other children -- young people know -- that my story can be their story and they can surpass my story," said Hart.

Antonio Hart, an internationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist and GRAMMY nominee, joins student performer Max Lesser of Los Angeles.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

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The California students performing with Hart include Max Lesser from Los Angeles.  The sophomore also plays saxophone and works to encourage students to learn more about music.

"I guess if there could be any message to any student is that no matter how behind the learning curve you are if you put enough effort into it, you can catch up," said Lesser.

But Lesser just started traveling and working with Hart on stage this week, however, they looked like it had practiced together for years.

"And that's the history of this music -- you're are suppose to know a certain repertoire, you're suppose to know a certain history.  It's our language, so I can go to Japan, I can go to any part of the world . If you understand the history, we can talk. whether we speak the same language, but speak the same musical language," noted Hart.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Antonio Hart works with student piano player in the Theolonious Monk Institute, Connie Han.

Connie Han, classically trained on the piano, now thrives on jazz.  Han started with Thelonious Monk in September.  Han's message to students is to have "purpose and passion."

"You need to listen a lot to jazz music and practice a lot.  And play a lot with others too," said Han

When Hart and the California high school students finish performing for local students they step off the stage as performers and walk into the school's music room as educators to listen to the local Performing Arts jazz band students adjust their. They will look for rhythm and if they play together during the workshop.

The Buffalo Performing Arts students quickly set up the side-by-side jazz education workshop.  David DeWitt is the Jazz Ensemble director at Performing Arts Academy.  He said this is an incredible opportunity for his students...to see what can be achieved at the same age.

"To be able to give them something to aspire to, not only with some like Antonio Hart and Lisa Henry, also just kids their own age, playing like crazy," said DeWitt. Lisa Henry is a national-known jazz vocalist who travels with the institute.

Buffalo performing Arts student Brandon Young is a junior who plays the saxophone---the workshop allowed him to pick up as many pointers as possible. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Jazz Ensemble at Buffalo's Performing Arts Academy.

"It's cool to see how high school kids like us can be on such a high level," said Young.

Young said he first picked up a saxophone in the 5th grade.  It's Young's dream is to be in a band and travel the world. But this national music education program comes as a rally will be held Wednesday night prior to Buffalo School Board meeting.  It will be a "Drum Rally" to save Buffalo's instrumental music for possible spending cuts as the district faces about a $50-million budget deficit.

The music workshop program moves to City Honors School in Buffalo Thursday, followed South Park High on Friday. Friday night Thelonious Monk performs at Buffalo's Tralf open to the public.