Organizers of the 2018 Northampton Jazz Festival are teaming up with Northampton public schools to bring a professional musician to John F. Kennedy Middle School to work with students in the seventh and eighth grade jazz bands.
Gary Smulyan, the most acclaimed jazz baritone saxophone player in the world for 12 years, will kick off the new, ongoing Jazz in the Schools program, which is expected to roll out in multiple sessions each year, beginning this year on Oct. 29. As part of the program, students will receive instruction from Smulyan, and the professional will play alongside the student musicians in a performance.
The new student education program is funded in part by the jazz festival, with help from individual donors. Allen Davis and the Davis Financial Group of Hadley is the first key sponsor of Jazz in the Schools, having made an initial gift. Davis also has pledged additional support for up to five years.
“It was easy to decide to get behind as great a cause as Jazz in the Schools,” said Davis, certified financial planner and founder of the Davis Financial Group. “By pairing professional jazz musicians with young, aspiring players, it gives the students a role model to look up to and learn from. Playing alongside a pro could be just the thing to inspire them with a passion for jazz and fuel their dreams.”
Also supporting the initiative is a fundraiser, The Hotel Northampton Jazz Brunch, which will be held on Oct. 21 at noon in the Grand Ballroom of the hotel. A jazz ensemble from JFK will perform as guests arrive, and jazz musicians Steve Davis, on trombone, and Linda Ransom, on vocals, will perform with the Green Street Trio—with Paul Arslanian, George Kaye and Jon Fisher. Tickets are $40 per guest and are available at northamptonjazzfest.org.
Smulyan’s visit to JFK will come shortly after the conclusion of this year’s Northampton Jazz Festival, which returns Oct. 19 through Oct. 21 after a three-year hiatus. The festival is free—except for two of its events—and is open to the public. It has routinely drawn upwards of 5,000 individuals to see rich line-ups of jazz artists locally and from around the world since its inception in 2011. This year, it will be staged at a variety of indoor venues in downtown Northampton, with acts including the headliner Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, Sheryl Bailey and Don Braden among many others.
The main goal of the Jazz in the Schools program lies in exposing student musicians to the mentorship of jazz artists who are not only masters of their craft and experienced educators, but also inspirational working professionals. The program also aligns well with the Northampton Jazz Festival’s commitment to carrying forward the great American music tradition of live jazz for generations to come.
“Traditionally, this music was learned by listening and interacting with other players; being encouraged by audience reaction, interaction with other musicians on the bandstand, and trial and error,” said Paul Arslanian, producer and creative director of the Northampton Jazz Festival, who is also founder and coordinator of the weekly Northampton Jazz Workshop. “Hopefully this program will encourage that cycle to continue, and nurture a few more young innovators.”
Arslanian worked with Claire-anne Williams, music director at JFK who instructs the seventh and eighth grade jazz bands, to decide on an educational program that would significantly benefit her students.
“The students who participate in my jazz program are highly motivated students who are truly interested in learning,” Williams said. “They’ll be very excited to work with professional jazz musicians who can help them with their improvisational skills and jazz stylistic interpretation.”
Smulyan and Arslanian’s Green Street Trio will work with the seventh and eighth grade ensembles on Monday, Oct. 29, and then perform alongside the same students during a schoolwide assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The students and parents will also be invited to that week’s Northampton Jazz Workshop for a concert with Smulyan and the Green Street Trio.
“What excites me and other jazz musicians is that this program is a vehicle for us to pass on our knowledge, experience and love of the music to another generation,” Arslanian said. “My hope is that a few of the most interested and determined students will go on to pursue careers in music and pass on the history, as well as their own take on the music.”
Jazz has been a popular course of study at JFK Middle School; since the jazz band’s inception 12 years ago, it has grown from a small group of 15 students to two separate bands totaling 50 students. The two bands have performed for parents, at local elementary schools and in the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education Festival, where they received high scores from judges. Most recently, the school’s top group was an opener for the Jamie Kent Band at Northampton’s Academy of Music.
Jazz in the Schools provides a next step in giving JFK Middle School’s students an opportunity to improve their skills while connecting with the larger jazz community.
“The jazz band program has become an integral part of the JFK Middle School’s community and the Northampton community at large, and this collaboration will be a perfect way to move this program into the larger community in yet another direction,” Williams said. “Music is a very natural way to bring people together and enhance the overall community.”
Perhaps even more valuable than the opportunity for the students to improve their jazz skills, Williams and Arslanian agreed, is the opportunity to inspire in them an enduring passion for music.
“Our mission is to show how beautiful and fulfilling this music can be, and at the same time, make it accessible and understandable,” Arslanian said, noting that the students will be welcome additions to future Northampton Jazz Festival line-ups when they’re ready. “It just takes study and practice if you really want to play the music.”
When four board members spoke about reviving the Northampton Jazz Festival at the April meeting of the Downtown Northampton Association (DNA), this was the reaction from Cathy Cross, owner of Cathy Cross Fashion for Women. I couldn’t be more pleased as this is precisely the buzz we are trying to create with the new model for the Northampton Jazz Festival, founded in 2011.
The festival ran for five years in a tented stage area in the Armory Street parking lot behind Thornes Marketplace. The costs to stage such an event grew to about $50,000, which was not sustainable from a fundraising perspective. (The Northampton Jazz Festival is a 501(c)(3).) In collaboration with Amy Cahillane, Director of the DNA, we quickly agreed upon a less expensive, far more inclusive way to stage the festival: to stage the performances at a host of different venues downtown. And bring economic vitality to the downtown at the same time.
Friday night’s Jazz Strut on October 19 will feature small jazz ensembles at seven or eight different bars and restaurants downtown free of charge to patrons who can stroll, strut or crawl from one to the other all night and catch different acts as they go. Saturday’s all-day free concerts will take place at Click Workspace on Market Street, The Parlor Room on Masonic Street, the Unitarian Society on Main Street, in Thornes Marketplace, and end up in Pulaski Park—the one outdoor venue. After the main stage concert with Latin jazz legend Paquito D’Rivera and his Quintet at the Academy of Music Saturday night (a ticketed event), The Hotel Northampton is sponsoring a jazz brunch, which will be a delicious fundraiser for a new program we are initiating to bring professional jazz musicians into the Northampton Public Schools to advance jazz education. Vocalist Linda Ransom, trombonist Steve Davis and the Green Street Trio will entertain the guests, and a JFK Middle School jazz band will greet the guests as they arrive.
Three days of jazz in downtown Northampton at the height of the fall tourist season when being in New England is a must-do.
Three days of keeping the focus of visitors’ attention right on downtown Northampton, with planned breaks between shows to encourage visitors to shop, dine and view the many creative shops, galleries and food establishments throughout downtown.
Three days of bringing economic vitality to downtown Northampton Massachusetts and ensuring its place as one of the most vibrant and popular downtowns in the United States.
We do hope it’s the best thing that happens to downtown Northampton in 10 years. We hope you come and find out yourself.
After a three-year hiatus for the Northampton Jazz Festival, an active group of area musicians and dedicated community members has revived the popular downtown music event by forming a board of directors to govern it.
The festival secured 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in late 2014. The eight-member board, led by president Ruth Griggs, of Northampton, is currently at work planning the 2018 Northampton Jazz Festival. “We are thrilled to be able to carry forward our great American music tradition of live jazz right in downtown Northampton. In 2018, we will honor this mission in new and meaningful ways,” Griggs said. “We are renewing the fest with a rich line-up of jazz artists from across the globe and around the region.”
HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL
The Northampton Jazz Festival was founded in 2011 by a group who wished to stage an event that brought out the community as the former “Taste of Northampton” once did in the early 2000s.
The Northampton Jazz Festival was produced annually for five years in the Armory Street Parking Lot behind Thornes Marketplace until 2015, when a lack of financial support caused organizers to suspend operations. The festival was free, open to the public and drew upwards of 5,000 individuals from around New England.
A NEW MODEL FOR THE FESTIVAL
Griggs said that the festival board is actively partnering with the Downtown Northampton Association (DNA) directed by Amy Cahillane to help ensure the success of the event. “Amy’s involvement has been a major inspiration for us to bring live jazz music back to downtown Northampton,” Griggs said.A collaboration with the Northampton public schools is also underway. “We want to work toward creating a program to bring more live jazz and encourage jazz exposure and musicianship in the Northampton public schools,” Griggs said. “We‘d like to reach more individuals who would like to learn to play a jazz instrument or sing but may not have the awareness or access to do so.”
AN ACTIVE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
In addition to Griggs, board members for the Northampton Jazz Festival are: treasurer, Alan Blankenship, of Chicopee; clerk, Jesse Adams, of Florence; and directors, Paul Arslanian, of Northampton; David Picchi, of Holyoke; Carolyn Smith, of Easthampton; George Kaye, of Hadley; and Kathy Service, of Northampton.
Board members are actively raising funds to support the festival at this time. To make a donation email firstname.lastname@example.org and information will be sent to you or go online to northampotnjazzfest.org/support.
aul Arslanian, who had an active role in the previous festival as creative director, said, “The Northampton Jazz Festival is needed to bring back live music to downtown Northampton, which has been in demand by residents and visitors alike. We are consciously staging performances at venues all around the city so people can patronize the restaurants and shops downtown in between shows.” Arslanian said the festival will provide a meaningful and unique public performance opportunity for young and rising jazz performers in the area as well as to bring the general public a positive and family-friendly experience.
THREE DAYS OF JAZZ IN DOWNTOWN NORTHAMPTON
This year’s festival will begin Friday, Oct. 19, with the traditional Jazz Strut through downtown, when the city’s restaurants, bars and pubs will host small jazz ensembles—resident artists from the Valley—all evening long.
Saturday’s music line up will involve some of Northampton’s oldest music venues, such as the Unitarian Society on Main Street. “We’ll also be staging performances at some of Northampton’s newest venues, such as Click Workspace and the recently renovated Pulaski Park,” Griggs said. “The main stage concert will be held on Saturday night at the Academy of Music Theatre.”
Sunday, a swinging Jazz Brunch at The Hotel Northampton will be held as a fundraiser to advance the jazz musicianship program in the works for Northampton public schools.
For more information visit Facebook at www.facebook.com/northamptonjazzfest
By Ruth Griggs
Ruth is the president of the Northampton Jazz Festival and founder and owner of strategic marketing communications firm RC Communications in Northampton.
By Janice Beetle
Janice is a writer and PR specialist and owner of Beetle Press in Easthampton