Jazz Artists in the Schools Program Returns to Northampton High School after a Two-Year Hiatus due to the Pandemic
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Elliot Ross Memorial Jazz Artists in the Schools program has returned to Northampton High School with five guest musicians teaching four sessions to students in the Jazz and Rock Improvisation Workshop.
This visiting musician teaching program is solely funded through donations from family and friends of the late Elliot Ross, a musician and graduate of the high school. Ross died at age 21 in November 2018. By request of the Ross family, the Northampton Jazz Festival established the Jazz Artists in the Schools program at Northampton High School the following year.
Donations to the program now top $15,000 and make it possible for students of music at the high school to gain insight, tips and techniques from professional, working musicians.
Led by band director Paul Kinsman, the program is a collaboration between Kinsman and Northampton Jazz Festival’s Creative Director and Producer Paul Arslanian.
“I am so grateful for all the guest lecturers Paul Arslanian is bringing in, and the Ross family that has kept this program going. It’s really important that we keep jazz in the schools, and this has really helped us come back strong after two years when we were silenced,” said Kinsman.
This spring, five visiting musicians have visited the high school to teach four sessions each of Kinsman’s Jazz and Rock Improvisation Workshop, an elective scheduled during normal academic hours. Each guest musician has led a clinic and workshopped with the students on various topics around the art of improvisation to help hone their skills.
“Jazz as a genre of music is so diverse and so wide that having a different guest musician come in every week has really exposed me to different ideas that I can absorb and then incorporate into my improvisations,” said Ilan Bryant, a pianist and senior at the school. “I have also been surprised by how the diversity of the other student musicians around me has helped me grow in this class.”
The guest musicians have included Evan Arntzen, a jazz clarinetist and saxophonist who received his master’s from the Jazz Arts program at The Manhattan School of Music this spring; George Kaye, a lifelong professional jazz bassist; Gabe Childs, a guitarist and recent graduate of the Berklee School of Music; Justin Esiason, a professional trumpeter and a graduate in music at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Dave Haughey, a professional cellist, composer, teacher and improviser.
“For me, starting out improvising, listening to all of the greats play, it was really frustrating to me because it wasn’t as easy to play as they made it sound,” said Bryant. “So, to actually have seasoned musicians come in and break down improvising in all these different parts makes me appreciate how difficult, how complicated and how interesting it is, but it has also allowed me to take steps in the right direction to work on my own solo.”
The visiting musicians were given the opportunity to teach students different aspects of improvisation given their own professional experience. Topics included melodic variations in improvisation, harmonic considerations in improvisation, the role of guide tones and voicings in improvisation and the role of rhythm in improvisation.
“Each one of the guest musicians is an improviser at a high level and brings his/her own perspective to this very large field of music—improvisation and jazz in general. Having that many different perspectives really benefits the students’ growth,” said Kinsman.
On April 8, visiting musician Gabe Childs asked each student to play a solo during the song “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb. After their solos, Childs gave each student feedback, the student musicians critiqued their own solos and then members of the class commented on the solo as well.
“Hearing what everyone else had to say about that person was so nice, and the things they were saying were so encouraging to each other. It was a beautiful moment,” said Childs. “The fact that they were able to point out the great parts of what each person did was just so nice. That’s the fundamental essence of artistry—being able to point out what is exceptional.”
To watch a video of the students' rendition of, "Sunny" by Bobby Hebb, click here.
For more information about the Jazz Artists in the Schools Program, click here.
By Reviving a Beloved Event, She’s Creating a More Vibrant Downtown, by Joseph Bednar, BusinessWest
Published in BusinessWest, Wednesday, February 16, 2022. Link to article
Ruth Griggs was having coffee with Amy Cahillane one day in 2017, when Cahillane, who had recently taken charge of the Downtown Northampton Assoc., posed a question.
“She said, ‘what do you think about the Jazz Festival?” Griggs recalled. “I said, ‘what do you mean?’”
Cahillane told Griggs that, in her interactions with people downtown, she kept getting asked questions like, “can we have the Jazz Festival back? We miss live music downtown. What happened to the festival? Can you get it back?”
Griggs had been involved in the first incarnation of the Northampton Jazz Festival, from 2011 to 2015, after returning to her hometown following a three-decade marketing career in New York City. “I went to the shows, and once they got to know I was a marketing professional, I kind of was an advisor to them. I was never on the board, but I was definitely an advisor and helped them out quite a bit, the last two years in particular.”
Then the festival went away for two years, and Cahillane was angling to get Griggs and others who had supported it in the past to bring it back to life, promising to help build stronger relationships between the festival and city leaders and boost marketing and fundraising efforts.
“Having a strong presence downtown and good relationships downtown was really important to me, and I also know all the jazz people who knew how to put on that festival, some of whom had been involved in previous festivals,” Griggs said. “So I set to work to rally some support.”
The biggest challenge at the time, she said, was not losing the event’s 501(c)(3) status, which had been achieved right before the final festival in 2015. “If you let a 501(c)(3) go without any kind of documentation to the feds or the state for three years, it’s gone. And I could not let that happen.”
So Griggs and others formed a board, pulled the festival back from the brink, and started planning for the return of the event in 2018. Oh, and that board put Griggs in charge.
It made sense — since returning from New York in 2011, she had built a marketing firm, RC Communications, that focused on small to mid-sized businesses and especially nonprofits, which are, in many ways, the lifeblood of the region. She has also been a board member with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce for the past six years and is currently its immediate past vice president.
“I am a marketing strategist by trade, and, as such, I am good at seeing the big picture, keeping my eye on the vision and mission of an organization,” Griggs told BusinessWest. “When you combine that with my work in nonprofits over the last 15 years, that adds up to the type of experience that enables me to lead a nonprofit, which, of course, is what the Jazz Fest is at the end of the day.”
Her leadership in the chamber and her role as an entrepreneur with RC Communications have helped her build a wide network in the business community, she added.
“I also just have a knack for getting things done; I am a doer,” she went on. “Fundraising for the Jazz Fest, which is a big part of what I do, benefits from these relationships. As president of the board, I oversee all operations of the festival and keep everyone’s eye on the ball, but I have a particular focus on marketing and fundraising and community relations, with the help of Amy Cahillane.”
Within that model, she leaves the choosing and booking of the musicians and the running of the performances to five producers who serve on the board. And the model works, with the two-day October festival roaring back to life in 2018 and following that with successful outings in 2019 and 2021 as well; pandemic-disrupted 2020 saw a series of virtual performances instead.
But that success isn’t contained to the festival, or even to jazz lovers. As a two-day event held in locations scattered throughout the downtown (more on that in a bit), the event promotes the downtown corridor and boosts its businesses, making the festival’s success a true economic-development story, and Griggs a Difference Maker.
“I really care about the vitality and the economy of Northampton,” she said. “I’m hoping the Northampton Jazz Festival will continue to reaffirm and reinforce the unique entertainment value that Northampton offers.”
Taking It to the Streets
One key factor in the festival’s growing impact on downtown Northampton is a change in how it’s staged. From 2011 to 2015, it was presented in the Armory Street Parking Lot behind Thornes Marketplace. Along with the music stage was a beer tent, food vendors, a chef competition, and an art fair. It was a fun, multi-activity event, and attendees enjoyed it, Griggs said.
“What I felt was lacking was, if you were on Main Street, you had no idea anything was going on,” she explained. “It was tucked behind Thornes. It was efficient in that everything took place in one place, but there wasn’t a lot of space for an audience.”
Then, Cahillane and board member Paul Arslanian both came up with the same idea independently for the 2018 festival.
“In order to keep the cost down, which had gotten very high, and to be more all around town, they said, ‘let’s stage it in different places,’” Griggs said of the decision to schedule music acts inside downtown businesses, requiring attendees to move around to see them all.
“The idea was to get people to walk from place to place and stop in at a gallery or stop in at a restaurant or stop in at a café, and we would leave time in between shows so people could do that,” she explained. “Half the mission is supporting the economy of Northampton and bringing vibrancy back, which is what people said they wanted.”
Saturday’s slate of performances ends with the only ticketed show of the festival, a nationally known headliner at the Academy of Music. In recent years, that show has featured the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet in 2018, the Kurt Elling Quintet in 2019, and the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration in 2021, featuring five original members of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
The model has worked well, Griggs said, although the board has talked about streamlining it by bringing the venues closer together. One thing that won’t change, however, is the Friday Jazz Strut, which features local and regional bands, including student bands, and overlapping performance schedules.
“We stage the music a half-hour apart, and every band plays for two hours,” she noted. “That definitely gets people all over town, patronizing the restaurants and breweries and cafés. And that’s important.”
Speaking of students, the festival board also supports jazz education through a program called Jazz Artists in the Schools, in which Arslanian secures jazz artists from big cities across the Northeast to workshop with local high-school jazz bands.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for students to learn from musicians who make music, who have successfully made music their life — active, performing musicians,” Griggs said.
While “the board is the Jazz Festival,” she said, noting that it’s certainly a working board with year-round responsibilities, the festival itself also pulls in dozens of young volunteers each year, and she’s been moved by the sentiments they’ve expressed.
“One said, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do. I’ll be a runner, whatever you need for this to run smoothly; this is important,’” she recalled. A woman who had recently moved from Brooklyn said, “when I found out that Northampton has a jazz festival, I thought, ‘wow, this is a cool down, I want to live here, this is really cool.’
“That’s important for me to hear,” Griggs noted, adding that one vocalist who took part in the Jazz Strut clamored for more involvement and is now serving on the board. That’s critically important to me,” she went on. “I want this to last. I’ve been at this now since 2017, and I’ll be darned if, when I step down, it dies. That cannot happen. I would feel I failed if that happened. It’s critically important. So we need to keep bringing in the younger players and the younger musicians and the younger people who really care about keeping it alive. I think the Jazz Festival is now, and will be, an important feather in Northampton’s cap.”
Another volunteer and musician noted the 2021 festival’s increased slate of women performers, telling Griggs that was a definite plus for such an event in Northampton. She was impressed by young jazz enthusiasts pointing that fact out. “The goal is to continue to showcase women in jazz.”
Griggs has certainly shone over the years as a woman in marketing. As noted, she worked in New York City for 30 years, marketing for dot-com firms, mutual funds, and large corporations like American Express and Coca-Cola. She and her husband actually owned a firm for eight of those years, doing mostly financial-services marketing.
“That was lucrative, but totally intangible,” she said. “I got so tired of marketing credit cards and things like that.”
Then, while taking her teenage sons on college tours, she fell in love with higher education and the idea of “marketing people.” So she segued into higher-ed marketing for Queensborough Community College in the city.
“It totally changed my life. I felt like I got a crash course in nonprofit marketing and fundraising, because I reported to Development.”
When she returned to Northampton in 2011, she carried that experience with her into her new firm, RC Communications, working with a host of nonprofits in the Valley. She was also part of the Creative, a marketing enterprise she formed with Janice Beetle and Maureen Scanlon.
“But I was getting so involved in the chamber and the Jazz Festival, I felt like I needed to pull back and be semi-retired,” she told BusinessWest. While she still works with a few long-time clients, the rest of her time is split between the Jazz Festival, the chamber, her role chairing the investment committee at Edwards Church, and also Valley Jazz Voices, a group, formed in 2015, of 30 vocalists who sing exclusively jazz throughout region. “I just have so many initiatives I’m doing in the community, I just feel fortunate that I can spend more time doing them.”
She sees a symbiosis in these roles, just as she does between the Jazz Festival and the downtown environment it lifts up, and gets a lift from in return.
“The relationships I’ve made in the chamber are helpful to my business, and also helpful to the Jazz Festival, which is, in turn, helpful to the town. It’s a complete full circle.”
And a full life, one with the controlled, yet exciting, rhythm of a jazz performance — a life of true impact, note by note.
“I feel like I’m making a difference that people see most visibly — in the Jazz Fest — because of all the other things I do,” Griggs said. “It’s all of those things that I think make a difference together.”
As published in BusinessWest, Wednesday, February 16, 2022, by Joseph Bednar
who can be reached at email@example.com
Thoughts of Dr. Fred Tillis
By Avery Sharpe
An inspirational artist, bassist Avery Sharpe has earned his reputation as a talented musician and skillful performer. As a student at UMass Amherst, he studied economics and learned to play the acoustic bass, encouraged by none other than Reggie Workman. Within a few years he was performing with such notables as Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. In 1980, Sharpe auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist’s group. He worked with Tyner almost continuously for 20 years, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records. From live gigs to studio sessions and more, Avery Sharpe continues to touch fans around the world with his distinct and enjoyable musical style.
I met Dr. Tillis in 1973, my second semester Freshman year at UMass. I was 18 years old and interested in music. I was playing electric bass at the time. I had seen the New York bass violin choir, with Ron Carter, Bill Lee, Richard Davis, Sam Jones, Lyle Atkinson and Milt Hinton at Bowker Auditorium, UMass and I was blown away. I wanted to get my hands on a double bass. Dr. Tillis probably had something to do with bringing them there. I spoke to Dr. Tillis about my interest in music and bass, he told me of his class on Improvisation and Jazz Theory, he also told me about the great bassist Reggie Workman who was teaching at UMass. I went to see Reggie at his office in New Africa House and told him I wanted to study bass and could I begin lessons with him in the fall of my sophomore year. I also began taking Dr. Tillis’ Jazz course. I was fascinated by his teaching and it was even more important that I saw how he, as an African American, navigated his way through a predominately white music establishment. His intellectual prowess and social and personal skills were amazing to me and had a profound affect on me as an African American. He immediately became a mentor to me. I got my first experience of playing in a big band that he directed. I continued to be impressed by his skills and was knocked out when I learned that he was also a skilled composer. I wanted to acquire the skills that he had and wanted to be multi-dimensional, as he was. He was always thoughtful and kind, he listened to me and helped me solve educational and personal problems. It is amazing when one person can have a profound affect on how you view music and the world; I can never repay him for all his great work and the eternal influence he has had on me and the world at large. The measure of a real man, and his legacy, is his ability to leave the world in a much better place than it was before his birth.
I will miss this bright light.
By Crystal Curran
Crystal Curran is the 2020 marketing intern for the Northampton Jazz Festival. She going to be a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall of 2020, where she majors in music education and psychology, and is pursuing certificates in arts management and social work. She is heavily involved in the university’s ensembles, ranging from being a member of the flute Field Staff for marching band to being a member of the top auditioned choir, Chamber Choir. She also served as Vice President of House Council for the BCG cluster.
Dr. Frederick C. Tillis--known for his long-standing legacy in the community as director of the Fine Arts Center (FAC), co-founder of Jazz in July, the New WORLD Theater, and Asian Arts and Culture Program at the FAC and outstanding musician--passed away on May 3rd at 90 years old due to post-surgery complications.
Dr. Tillis’s legacy at UMass follows over 20 years of serving in the music program, plus staying deeply involved after his retirement as emeritus director, and by attending concerts and supporting faculty members at the university. In addition to teaching and mentoring, he maintained a healthy performing career and was a prolific composer. He composed 100 original works ranging from choral pieces to African-American spirituals. He also wrote 15 books of poetry, proving that his talents transcended boundaries of creation.
Andrew Jaffe--jazz pianist, composer, recording artist and emeritus Williams College Music department —wrote of Fred Tillis, "Fred was a fine composer, instrumentalist and poet, but also, in his own self-effacing way, managed to move mountains and change the cultural landscape of the Pioneer Valley and beyond forever. His innovations, such as the establishment of the Jazz and Afro American music program and Jazz in July at The University of Massachusetts, are part of this legacy, as were the presence at UMass of such important musicians as Dr. Yusef Lateef, Horace Boyer, Jeff Holmes, Archie Shepp, Sheila Jordan and Max Roach among so many others. The artistic accomplishments and cultural contributions of his students stretch across the world."
In addition to his legacy as a successful musician and educator, his lasting memory is one full of fondness and love. He carried himself with an air of kindness that made everyone want to stop and listen to what he had to say.
David Picchi—bassist, educator, and director of the Jazz in July program at UMass--remembers when Dr. Tillis took the stage at the 25th UMass Saxophone Symposium to talk about his time at UMass. He recalls how, “...it was not only great to listen to him, but it was astounding to look around and see so many of his past students. All of us having come up under him, having received his help, or his guidance, and enjoying how he paved the way for us. The room was totally quiet in reverence for Dr. Tillis. It was a really impactful moment for me and I will never forget it.”
Outside of his role at UMass, Dr. Tillis was no stranger to greater change. He helped to establish jazz programs in South Africa at the University of Fort Hare and in Thailand at Chulalongkorn University. Upon retirement, the W.E.B. Du Bois library created an archive on Dr. Tillis’ life with documents, drafts of poems, compositions, and recordings; all which help to tell the story of his life.
Shawn Farley, marketing director of the UMass Fine Arts Center, remembers Dr. Tillis, who hired her at the Fine Arts Center in 1987, “Dr. Tillis was nothing but kind, just, compassionate, generous with his time, and the best teacher in terms of how to solve problems, to trust in myself and that no matter what you do, remember that you are part of the bigger world. His strength of character and commitment to stand up for what's right, no matter what it may cost him, made such an impression on me. I will be forever grateful to have worked with him for the last ten years of his tenure.”
Even though he is gone, he will not be forgotten. Creating numerous new programs at UMass—such as Jazz in July, the Jazz and Afro-American Music Studies program, the New WORLD Theater, and the Asian Arts and Culture Program—enriched the lives of numerous musicians, and provided a solid foundation for the next generation of jazz performers to build their skills. Students and colleagues alike remember dedication to building this program, and those that have never met him still benefit from his endeavors. His legacy lives on in their lives.
Dr. Willie Hill—retired director of the UMass Fine Arts Center and a longtime student, colleague, and friend of Dr. Tillis—reflected, “If I could say anything to him, I would tell him that I did the best that I could with the resources I had to further carry his legacy forever...making sure we have the necessary programs in place that he could be proud of...all of those individuals we've brought on board to continue the agenda we set forth at the Fine Arts Center. I know when I retired, the Fine Arts Center was in great shape. If I could give one message to him, it would be that he would love what we've done now.”
By Genevieve Rose, bassist and music educator
Dr. Frederick Tillis was an incredibly kind, supportive, and genuinely caring individual. A dedicated supporter of the arts, he was also an amazingly talented saxophonist, composer, poet, and inspiring jazz educator.
I first met Dr. Tillis 25+ years ago when he was a guest presenter for the AAIMS Program at the Community Music School of Springfield. He invited students to play a jazz tune with him, and I eagerly volunteered, as he made us feel comfortable with his friendly and welcoming demeanor. Since then, he has been one of the pivotal people in helping make my life today of teaching and playing possible. Dr. Tillis encouraged me to attend both the Jazz in July Program and UMass Amherst. He helped facilitate my studies there by generously providing scholarship opportunities for financially disadvantaged students to be able to afford a college education.
Throughout the years Dr. Tillis continued his amazing legacy of enduring advocacy for the arts, both through his affiliation and administration of the UMass Fine Arts Center, and through the Jazz in July program. Key components of his educational philosophy were to support diversity, and bridge experienced musicians with learners. Dr. Tillis personally helped me gain experience by including me on his Portraits From Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess recording, as well as a performance trip overseas to Greece and Turkey. He helped make it possible for me to join the Jazz in July faculty as a house rhythm section bassist for the vocalists. For many years I have enjoyed observing him perform on stage, as well as seeing him in the audience showing support for the musicians. He was always in good spirits, and had thoughtful and encouraging things to say. I feel very grateful to Dr. Tillis for being such an important part of my life, and I will miss him greatly!
Genevieve Rose with Dr. Fred Tillis and Sheila Jordan (left) and with Carlos Bermudo (right) at Dr. Tillis' retirement party in 1997. Photos by Ed Cohen
a poem for fred tillis
by royal hartigan and weihua zhang
royal hartigan was a student of fred tillis in the 1970's
dr. tillis gave me my life back when i doubted everything after returning from two years in the peace corps philippines, seeing the third world devastation and hopelessness of most of the planet's peoples. he helped me believe in myself and was like a second father, opening me to the depth and spirituality of african american culture and music. my wife, weihua zhang was introduced to this great tradition via the jazz in july program he created.
he has changed the lives of thousands of people and will forever be in our hearts, our music, and our lives. all those whom i have taught over 35 years have received dr. tillis' influence.
here is a poem for fred –
HOPI PRAYER FROM OUR ANCESTORS, FOR OUR ANCESTORS
words from the hopi people of southwest native america and royal hartigan
for my teacher, friend, and inspiration, dr. frederick tillis
do not stand at my grave and weep, i am not there i do not sleep
i am a thousand iowa winter winds that blow, i am the diamond glints on snow
i am the summer’s sun on texas’ ripened grain, i am the gentle autumn’s rain
i am massachusetts harvest leaves of red and orange and gold, i am the life force of all beings, great and small, fleeting and eternal, young and old
i am new england mountain meadows of brown and tan and green, i am the inner secret shadow spirits of all things, visible and unseen
i am the dawning dew in may’s blooming mist, i am the heartbeat of your dreams kissed
i am the sounds of music, dance, and song, from up on high, i am the clouds in an endless sky
when you awaken in the morning’s quiet hush, i am the swift uplifting rush of birds in circled flight
i am the soft stars that shine on a moonlit night
so do not stand at my grave and cry, i am not there, i did not die
and as before, fred, wherever you go we are with you near or far, and wherever we walk on the paths of this long cold night of life without you, you are right here with us, inside our hearts
a mirror for each other’s souls through time and space we are one, and someday yet again we will be whole as we awaken together in the evening’s midnight sun
as we awaken together in the evening’s midnight sun
and we’ll dance with spirits deep, sing the whole way through,
we’ll laugh at life’s old ills, and to each other be true, as we awaken together in the evening’s midnight sun
in the evening’s midnight sun
we are one
we are one
we are one
with you in our hearts, fred,
in spirit and music,
royal hartigan and weihua zhang
north dartmouth, mass
fred tillis with royal hartigan and weihua zhang, and pam and ester bedford in 2019
By Allen Davis
Dr. Frederick Tillis (1930 - 2020) was a composer, saxophonist, poet and Director of the UMass Fine Arts Center from 1978 to 1997. Allen Davis, an Advisor to the Northampton Jazz Festival and founding patron of the Davis Financial Group Jazz Artists in the Schools Program at JFK Middle School, has known Fred Tillis for nearly 50 years beginning as a staff member at the Orchard Hill Residential College in the 70's. Davis shares his remembrances of the "quiet" leadership and support of Dr. Fred Tillis in this remembrance.
I first met Dr. Fred Tillis while working as a staff member at Orchard Hill Residential College in the early 1970’s. He was one of the faculty sponsors of our efforts to create in the Residential College setting learning experiences where students lived that drew from many cultural influences and sources – some of which had not yet found their way into mainstream curricula. Fred was a tower of support for us as we launched our series of concerts and workshops focused on African American music, a focal point in conjunction with Afro Am and other departments, for some of our courses and programs.
Over a number of years Fred was a crucial bridge for us, sometimes in concert with members of the new W.E.B. DuBois Dept. of African American Studies, between the community-based music series we produced, and the academy. He often introduced concerts we produced, and often helped us raise institutional funds for the self-financed productions we hosted. We brought these and other artists to campus while Fred quietly supported and promoted our efforts: Jimmy Garrison, Charles McPherson, Andy McGee, Ray Santisi, Webster Lewis, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Michael White, Barry Harris, Reggie Workman, Alan Dawson, Sonny Stitt, Keith Jarret, Gary Burton, Larry Coryell, Rene McLean and Steve Turre (whom he personally mentored as they became students at UWW), and the unbelievable, unforgettable weekend that featured Eubie Blake.
Emphasis here for me must be on the word “quiet” – Fred was always content to do this important work out of the spotlight, always supporting our efforts, stretching the boundaries of the institution in ways we knew were not always supported by mainstream leadership at the Department or College level. We all know and have celebrated Fred’s crucial work in establishing the Jazz program within the Music Department, and creating comfortable homes for Dr. Billy Taylor, and of course for Professor Max Roach, for whom Fred was a tireless advocate. From what I understand, his work within the Music Dept. was not without struggle and setbacks, and there are those who believe Fred never got proper credit for redirecting the mainstream that he deserved. (I believe he himself might have felt that way, in the most private way.) I and many others who knew him and the work he did always considered him to be a quiet warrior, a great educator, and a hero.
On a personal note, during my years at Orchard Hill I came to fantasize about playing the bass – Reggie Workman, whom we had engaged to do a course at Orchard Hill on the Black Music scene in New York, had something to do with that! I shared that thought with Fred, and that very day he took me down to the depths of the Music Department to the musical instrument cage, found a playable double bass for me to borrow, and had me contact Prof. Dave Neubert, who was the Bass specialist at the Music Dept. at the time, and arrange for lessons. I was blown away by his support, generosity, and encouragement. Eventually I went on to become a committed “community musician,” playing in the UMass Symphony Orchestra, the Pioneer Valley Symphony for 25 years, and for many, many community productions and events. I even have managed to keep up, barely, with some accomplished jazz players over the years. I think of Fred almost every time I pick up my bass! That “gift” changed my life, and I will never forget it.
Rest in Peace, dear friend and mentor.
By Bob Fazzi
Managing Partner and Founder (retired), Fazzi Associates, Northampton
Incredible! Amazing! Inspiring! Visionary! Last weekend's Jazz Fest was absolutely a super success. I met people from throughout the Pioneer Valley and from neighboring states who were excited to be there. Different ages (so many young people), different races, different ethnic groups, different life experiences - everything we want Northampton to be.
The strategy of the Jazz Festival Board of Directors to have the various artist and groups perform in our local restaurants, churches and businesses was brilliant. The restaurant, bar and brewery owners I talked to were equally excited as were the Jazz fans in attendance. Old and new patrons coming together to enjoy incredible music while enjoying drinks and food in their establishments.
The Jazz Fest Board not only put on a sensational weekend event; they modeled what we need to do to make Northampton a more inclusive and standout community. My thanks and congratulations to the Jazz Festival Board, volunteers, Northampton businesses, performers and jazz fans who make the weekend such an outstanding success.
In the midst of all of the complaints and concerns, many legitimate, over issues with downtown, I think it is important that when something good happens, we acknowledge and celebrate it. Thanks to the success of this year's Jazz Fest, something good happened!
By Anthony Aquadro
Anthony is the 2019 marketing and development intern for the Northampton Jazz Festival. A rising senior at Connecticut College, Anthony is a psychology and economics major and is interested in advertising and media buying.
Camille Thurman started playing the saxophone when she was 15, but it wasn’t until she was in her 20’s that Camille began adding jazz singing to her talents. Initially she started working with various bands in New York City and eventually earned the saxophone chair, working regularly with several notable band leaders and projects in New York (Nicholas Payton, Charlie Persip, Valerie Ponomarev).
Over time, she started her own band along with drummer Darrell Green. One day while touring in Africa with American Music Abroad, a program of the United States Department of State, she received a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra inviting her to play with them.
Initially shocked that they called her, Camille knew she had a life-changing decision to make. She discussed the offer with her mentors who urged her to take the gig.
Camille has not only worked with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra but has also worked with many jazz and R&B icons, including Wynton Marsalis, George Coleman, and Alicia Keys. Downbeat Magazine has named her a “rising star,” and her rich sound on tenor sax has led others to compare her to greats such as Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon.
Camille now lives in the New York City area and plays across the globe, continuing to amaze audiences with her vocal and saxophone performances. On May 20, her audience was students at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton; she offered them her skill and knowledge and a performance.
Camille’s visit came as part of the Jazz Artists in the Schools program. For the past year, the Northampton Jazz Festival has been working with Northampton public schools to bring professional jazz musicians in to workshops and clinics. Leaders of the program say it gives young musicians a unique opportunity to learn from and work with acclaimed professionals.
After listening to Camille perform for five to 10 minutes, the students erupted in applause. They then showcased their own talents, performing “Route 66” for her. For the remainder of the 75 minutes they had together, Camille eagerly reinforced that students should focus on three things while playing: the director, the rhythm, and tonal changes. She broke the band into three groups according to the instrument each played—the rhythm and horn sections, and the male vocalist—in order to focus on the improvements needed in each.
Camille explained to the rhythm section—two bass guitarists, a pianist, and a drummer—that in order to be the backbone of the band, they have to consistently keep time together while also watching the director for changes in the song. She directed the trumpet and saxophone players to emphasize dynamics and articulation. She added, “When the singer finishes his or her part in the song, you have to play the shout course as if it is the band’s turn to have their moment in the arrangement.”
“What does the singer do?” Camille asked the class. She then explained that the singer tells the story, and that each section tells the story in a different way. Camille encouraged the school band’s vocalist to add his own flair in telling the story of “Route 66.”
Camille led the group with seeming ease, quickly forming a good rapport with the students. As she worked with each section of the band, the other young musicians listened attentively, nodding their heads in agreement when Camille spoke to them. It was clear she commanded their respect.
The Jazz program at JFK Middle School has grown considerably under the direction of Claire-anne Williams. Starting with 15 students when it was created 13 years ago, the program now consists of 50 students and two separate bands under Williams’ direction.
Camille is the last guest artist the students will work with through the Jazz Artists in the Schools program until mid November at JFK and then at Northampton High School on December 2-3 with trombonist and educator Steve Davis.
For more information or to make a donation to the Jazz Artists in the Schools program, visit northamptonjazzfest.org.