They’ve got the jazz: trio brings music, history to middle school
Jazz might not be on the typical middle schooler’s music playlist, but on Valentine’s Day 2020, Wareham students listened to everything from Duke Ellington, to George Gershwin, to Miles Davis.
As part of the Cape Conservatory’s Jazz in the Schools program, the musical trio of Bart Weisman on drums, Rich Hill on bass, and Fred Boyle on piano travel to schools to showcase the many different styles of jazz, and teach kids about the history of one of America’s original music genres.
Wareham Middle School music teacher Caitlin Francese helped organize Friday’s performance in Wareham, and said that the show was “an amazing opportunity for our students” that offers a “massive education on jazz history” in just about 40 minutes.
The band had already started playing as students in fifth and seventh grade filed into the middle school auditorium for the 10 a.m concert. Once students took their seats, Weisman started the show with some basic history. Snare drums, bass drums, and cymbals were traditionally played separately, but over time they were consolidated to a single drum set.
“I can put a marching band out of business,” Weisman boasted, as he showed off his dexterity on his drums.
After impressing the crowd, Weisman introduced the “big band era” of jazz, as he played Duke Ellington’s “Take the A-Train” with his bandmates.
From there, Weisman talked about song structure, counting measures of hooks, verses, and bridges for students. But he said that what really “makes jazz, jazz” is the ability to improvise.
In contrast to classical music where songs are performed exactly the same each time, Weisman said that jazz musicians have “musical conversations” with each other, and make spontaneous adjustments during each performance.
As time went on, the “big bands” grew smaller to allow for more solos and improvisation, leading to the jazz style known as “bebop.”
To showcase this style of music, the band played “Billy’s Bounce” by Charlie “Yardbird” Parker.
Next was the style of “cool jazz,” in which musicians like Miles Davis used a ¾ time signature to add a waltz to their jazz swing.
To show students how jazz songs can be played in different styles, the band took “Summertime” by George Gershwin, and played a quick preview of the song in four unique styles. While the original ballad, jazz waltz, and big band styles are all valid options for the song, students voted to hear it in the Afro-Cuban style of jazz after hearing previews of each style.
While jazz was born in America, it is known worldwide, and has incorporated musical influences from several other countries.
The theme music to Charlie Brown draws on influences from Brazilian musical genes like bossa nova and samba.
While the British Invasion of American music in the 1960s is largely associated with rock and roll, jazz musicians like Ramsey Lewis incorporated elements of the style in their music as well. As Weisman and company played a selection of his music, students clapped along on beat to contribute to the performance.
The last style discussed during Friday’s show was “smooth jazz” a more contemporary form of jazz popularized in the 1980s and 90s. After taking the middle schoolers through the evolution of the genre, Weisman invited them to add some jazz to their playlists, and played a final song with his band as students were sent on their way to their next class.
Weisman started the program in 2014, and since then, he has performed in over 60 schools throughout Cape Cod. The program is free to the schools, and is funded primarily by donations from the Provincetown Jazz Festival.
To learn more about the program, go to www.capeconservatory.org/cape-conservatory-jazz-in-schools.asp.