Telling stories: Art of Cool puts on summer music camp
Alto saxophonist Ron Carter asked some students at Global Scholars Academy what blues they learned the day before, and if anyone had a story they wanted to tell. “You guys realize the blues is a way to tell stories,” he said.
One of the students chimed in, “Once upon a time a kid walked down the street.” Carter then asked for a good “punch line.” He and the students came up with the “punch line,” “He fell down and said, Ouch, I hurt my feet!” Soon the students, with Carter leading them through the chord progression, were singing their story with a blues feel. Three young saxophonists – Adriana Flores, Destiny Bellamy and Jamie Lewis – played the chords, while a rhythm section of drums, bass, guitar and keyboard helped lead the way.
Carter’s blues workshop was part of the second day of the Art of Cool Project’s Summer Jazz Camp. This week, about 30 students in grades 3-7 are getting group and private instruction on instruments, learning about blues lyric writing, and how to play in a group. The public can hear what these young musicians learned during a free concert at noon today at Global Scholars Academy.
The Art of Cool Project recently presented its first jazz festival in April. The summer camp is one of the project’s educational programs. Trumpeter Al Strong, co-founder of Art of Cool, is leading and coordinating this inaugural camp.
Carter is one of four guest artists who are giving workshops this week. He is a performer and clinician who has worked with many heavyweights in music – Jimmy Heath and Lena Horne among them. For 18 years he taught at Lincoln High School in East St. Louis, then led the jazz ensemble and program at Northern Illinois University before he retired.
During a discussion of Duke Ellington’s “C-Jam Blues,” Carter teaches the students how to sing certain licks using syllables to do the proper phrasing. He tells the students he learned this phrasing trick from “a very famous trumpet player named Clark Terry.” The late trumpeter Miles Davis told him that Terry was his mentor, Carter said. (Davis also attended Lincoln High, albeit before Carter taught there.) “You know Miles Davis?” a student asked Carter. “Wow.”
Just as Terry taught lessons to Davis, Carter passed on his knowledge to these students. He worked on fingering and phrasing with saxophonists Flores, Bellamy and Lewis (whom he nicknamed, respectively, Sonny Stitt, Julian “Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker). He stressed the importance of listening to recordings, and compared learning jazz to learning a language. “That’s the only way you’re going to learn this music,” Carter said. “Find someone who plays [your] instrument and make that person your hero.”
He told the trumpet players to listen to Davis and Chet Baker. “Start listening to them and imitate the sound,” Carter said. He told the sax players to go find videos of Parker, Adderley and Stitt and “watch how they stand,” and so on with other instruments.
Tylar McCalston, a rising fourth-grader, has been taking drums for two years and wants to “have my own band when I grow up.” While he does not have a favorite drummer, he said he will take the teacher’s advice and find one and start listening.
Global Scholars Academy, a public charter school, reached out to Art of Cool and partnered with the organization to put on the camp, said Leonard Mayo, the school’s head of curriculum and instruction. The benefits go beyond learning music, he said. “Research says if they can do music, they’re much better at math,” Mayo said. “It’s all-inclusive, not to mention the pleasure that it brings.”
Even after one day of instruction, students’ growth as musicians already was evident, said Tanner Willeford, who teaches music in grades K-2 at the school “You can see them grow at such an astounding rate!” he said.
Go and Do
WHAT: Concert by students in Art of Cool Summer Jazz Camp
WHEN: Saturday, noon
WHERE: Gymnasium of Global Scholars Academy, 311 Dowd St., Durham