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Fostering a Love of Jazz in Teens

Who are the John Coltranes, Miles Davises and Dave Brubecks of tomorrow? One might find them in a new teen jazz ensemble offered by Jazz Forum Arts in Tarrytown beginning in February.

Students in grades 5-12 will learn swing, bebop, fusion and other jazz styles from drummer and percussionist Ron Vincent, who has introduced young people to the art of jazz for nearly 20 years. Most recently he could be found at RiverArts, where he taught percussion, initiated the RiverArts Summer Jazz Camp and started the RiverArts Jazz Ensemble program. He has also taught at Manhattanville College, served as a percussion consultant in the Edgemont School District and worked at the Jamie Aebersold Jazz Camp and Stanford Jazz Camp.

Ellen Prior, Associate Director of Jazz Forum Arts, says that the new program builds on “Jitterbugs,” the nonprofit group’s current educational programming for kids aged two to seven.

“We have known Ron for a long time,” says Prior. “He mentioned the teen ensemble idea and it was right up our alley. We’re bringing in a new generation and promoting jazz overall.”

“I can get them playing in a couple of weeks,” says Vincent, who has accompanied many jazz greats over his long musical career, including a six-year stint with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. “They don’t have to know how to improvise at all.”

To participate, students should have at  least two years of experience on their instrument and a basic knowledge of major scales and fingerings, as well the ability to read music. Potential students will be interviewed and asked to play in order to help Vincent assess their abilities.

In each class, students will be introduced to jazz standards and compositions from the Great American Songbook. Ideas for improvisation will be introduced, and students will be encouraged to apply these techniques. Vincent says the goal is to have the students get comfortable improvising on their instruments and playing in an ensemble.

Vincent explains that when most people think about jazz, they visualize saxophone, piano, bass, trumpet and trombone, but what they don’t realize is that no instrument is off limits for
improvisation. “Our hope is to foster a love of jazz and improvisation that young musicians can carry throughout their lives,” he says.

Prior hopes to be able to offer scholarships to economically disadvantaged kids who might not otherwise be able to participate. Consequently, she has been working to secure grants in support of this effort.

The 10-week ensemble program, which will meet on Monday evenings beginning on February 6, and culminates with an end-of -semester concert for family and friends and a community service
performance at a local venue such as a nursing home, retirement home or VA hospital. Vincent’s recording career includes four Gerry Mulligan CDs and work with Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Randy
Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Charlap, John Lewis and Slide Hampton. He has performed live with Art Farmer, Karrin Allyson, Jimmy Heath, Rob McConnell, Rufus Reid and Dr. Billy Taylor.  His own trio and quartet play in the New York metro area, and the quartet has also toured in the U.S. and Europe. He has co-written, produced and performed on two educational DVDs for the “Master Jazz” series: Learn to Play Jazz and Becoming an Improviser.

When young people study music, explains Vincent, they learn important lessons that go beyond the instrument itself. “They understand how to work at something and get a result,” he says. “It’s a work ethic lesson that’s good for kids.”