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The circle of jazz

By Aurelie Gaudry
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(CNN) -- For every Lisa Simpson, tooting on her saxophone, there are dozens of Barts who prefer Game Boys and slingshots. But if the Simpsons' fictitious Springfield was revealed to be California's Monterey County, where jazz education thrives, even the spiky-haired prankster could be transformed into a cool jazz cat.

In 1983, Monterey Jazz Festival board member Ruth Fenton gathered local teachers together and asked them one question: What can we do to help you? Rob Klevan, a local high school teacher, suggested bringing "clinicians," professional musicians and educators, in to work with the students. Others said schools lacked instruments and sheet music. Things started to happen.

Today, Klevan serves as the director of the Monterey Jazz Festival Education Program. His idea spawned a program that now has nine clinicians who visit more than 20 schools in Monterey County. They select members for the Monterey Jazz Festival High School Honor Band and award 150 $500 scholarships to the two-week Monterey Jazz Festival Summer Jazz Camp.

Programs like The Monterey Jazz Festival Summer Jazz Camp and the Artist-In-Residence Program give young hopefuls the opportunity to interact with big names in the business. Klevan says that students are motivated by the advice they get and excited to find out that artists such as Richie Cole use the same reeds they buy at their local shops.

As a music major in college, Klevan attended clinician workshops. To this day, he advises his students to learn their scales from any note, advice imparted upon him by one of his heroes, flutist Hubert Laws.

Saxophonist Pat Carroll, a 2003 festival scholarship winner, said that it's great to "just be able to hang out with them and listen to what they have to say." He participated in The Brubeck Institute Summer Jazz Colony, an influential educational program similar to the Monterey Jazz programs, featuring guest musicians including drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Chris Potter.

Spreading jazz and giving back

The Monterey Jazz Festival County All-Star Band plays in Europe, Canada and Australia. Recently, they started going to Nanao, Japan, the festival's sister city, which hosts a version of the Monterey Jazz Festival in nearby Noto. Aside from performing, the band conducts workshops in which students teach each other what they've learned about jazz.

Klevan monitors evaluation forms which students fill out after going on these trips. He recalls one young man from the most recent trip who wrote that he especially enjoyed this aspect of the trip and now wants to be a teacher.

"The highlight of the trip for him was working with the Japanese kids. It wasn't the performing and all that, that was great, but it was having the chance to interact with kids his own age and show them what he knows," Klevan says.

Carroll, 19, and Eddie Mendenhall, 32, another student of Klevan's, both had the opportunity to visit Japan with the all-star band. Today, Medenhall holds Klevan's old teaching job at Stevenson School. "It's the full circle," says Klevan. Carroll also hopes he can give something back to the festival's educational endeavors someday.

Transforming hobbies into careers

The Monterey Jazz Festival and Berklee College of Music in Boston award the Lyons scholarship, named after late festival founder, Jimmy Lyons, yearly to one outstanding jazz musician. It is a full-tuition, four-year scholarship to Berklee, worth about $80,000. It was this scholarship that Carroll received.

Carroll says winning this scholarship was "pivotal" for him, helping him realize that he could actually make a career out of playing the saxophone. "It's just a great thing to know that there's something beyond just a hobby," he says. He studies professional music at Berklee.

Next Generation

This is the second year of the Next Generation Festival, which now features the Monterey Jazz Festival Annual National High School Jazz Competition. The Next Generation Festival took place in late April, earlier this year. Winning bands get the chance to play at the actual Monterey Jazz Festival.

While the competition remains at the core of the festival, more attention is now being focused on interaction between schools and kids. Klevan says the jam sessions kids from different schools got together and participated in on Fisherman's Wharf, in between workshops and performances, made the festival worth it this year.

The Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble works hard getting ready for the highly respected competition every year, Lori Ferguson, parent in charge of the band, says.

Berkeley High placed first in the Big Band competition for the past two years but their title went to Arts & Communication Magnet Academy in Beaverton, Oregon this year.

Charlie Ferguson, 17, a drummer in the band, has had the chance to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival during his four years with the Berkeley Jazz Ensemble. Ferguson says it's great to have played on the stage Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar on during the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. "It's inspirational to play on the same stage that so many other amazing artists have played on," he says.

Future of jazz education

Klevan says programs like the ones in Monterey can be replicated almost anywhere. "The main thing is for schools and directors to work together because there's power in numbers," he says. He encourages sharing instruments and music. There's nothing sadder to him than when "a kid is lacking a horn and there's one sitting in a storage room in another school some place," he says.

Klevan plans to expand the reach of the festival's programs beyond California is developing an idea for an online listening bank featuring big-name artists' suggestions of essential music for aspiring jazz students. "You can't expect kids to play jazz if they don't listen to it," he says.

In his 30-year teaching career, spanning from elementary school up to college, Klevan has seen a troubling change in the importance of music education. He says these programs can help shift kids' focus from TV and video games to cultural things, like music.

"I'm involved in organizations that want to make sure it stays there, and Monterey Jazz Festival, I really believe in the program having seen it work."


Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble




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