Someone posted on Facebook the other day a picture of the Tulare Western High School jazz band from my senior year in high school. It was great seeing everyone and being reminded of how much we enjoyed making music together. It also reminded me of how grateful we should be for music in the public schools. I started playing trumpet in the 5th grade at Roosevelt Elementary in Tulare, CA, and, save for a short hiatus from 2006-2009, I haven’t stopped. I’ve played in every ensemble imaginable with a trumpet part. And the music I’ve played in these groups has been marvelous. Literally, the door to the incredible world of music was opened for every child in that beginning trumpet class. Some kids just took a peak inside and decided to open a different door; but some of us gladly entered and decided to keep opening door after door in that spacious musical mansion. For me, one door in particular was life-changing: the jazz door. Jazz, the music of the African diaspora in which their hearts, minds, and souls embrace themselves and those around them. Happy are those that have been held in that embrace!
Playing jazz I learned how to improvise, which entails active listening, knowledge of chords, scales, and style, and the ability to integrate these with a sincere, uniquely personal, emotional expression. Jazz improvisation is instantaneous composition. Is it any wonder, then, that I’m a composer? Please take some time this week and give a listen to a jazz recording or two; even better, attend a live jazz performance if there is one happening near you.