Jazz in Culver City - Spontaneous & Joyful
smart and spicy
March 23, 2017
Does it matter that it was for kids and families? Not at all. You could have come; there was no family magnetometer. T'was like a hot summer day in a British beach resort, You see a group of kids sitting right on the sand, quietly, waiting expectantly, noiselessly. What's going to happen? Parents standing in the back, kids down in front, sitting in rows. How cute is that? That's a traditional Punch and Judy show, with old-fashioned puppets and red-and-white striped stage, beach and waves in the background. Full British summer. That's how it was in Culver City, if you just take away the waves and the sand and the Punch and Judy box. A green tarp was taped on the floor, joining a blue tarp, right in front of the stage. Here and there asmall child wandered down to sit on the tarp. Other children got the idea, forming an eager lineup of little tots in front of the stage. Mitch Glickman and his Symphonic Jazz Orchestra were taking their show on the road. They already bring it to grades K-5 in Culver City schools; last Saturday, they carried jazz to families in the Veterans Memorial Building. It was one of those gorgeous, full-sunshine days that makes a person feel lucky to be in Southern California; yet the crowd indoors at the free jazz concert was happy. Due to special funding for Culver City's 100th Anniversary (and support from Sony), families and kids (of all ages) had the treat of real instruments played by professional musicians in a special program, "The Origins of Jazz." And the jazz not candy-coated. Six musicians were on offer, with their amplified instruments. Mitch Glickman said it was the first time they went out to a community, promising a look at "this beautiful thing we call jazz." The crowd heard "Watermelon," got a dose of Leadbelly's blues, then some cool scatting by Chris Woods, musically turning sounds of animals into a nice jazz buildup. Even the musicians enjoyed it; they were all smiling. Two little girls suddenly broke into spontaneous dance. It was mesmerizing; an unaffected ode to delight. They looked ecstatic reacting to the music; everyone watching them felt contagious joy. Then it was New Orleans, ragtime, Joplin, boogey. When "The Saints Came Marching In" I swear I could smell the chicory.
Mitch explained Louis Armstrong's effect on jazz and talked about Bessie Smith. Ann Patterson gave us a slow melodic "St. Louis Blues." You missed something if you didn't go. A woman named Gladys told me she "just had an hour to kill, so I thought, why not?" She was 81 and loved it. You can come to the next one: May 20, “Bebop & Improvisation;" be sure to RSVP on the SJO website; seats are limited. * * * "Jazz is about being in the moment." Herbie Hancock * * * Mitch Glickman composes music for film, TV, concerts; he's the director of three music programs at LACMA; and 15 years ago he created the non-profit Symphonic Jazz Orchestra. His wife calls it "our third child." This is the only symphonic jazz orchestra in the U.S., with its hybrid approach to blend jazz and classical music. Mitch started working in schools, bringing music to schools county-wide. He exposes students to counting rhythms, introducing instruments, and learning the history of blues. In the Q&A, one child asked if any of the musicians onstage had played with anyone famous. Paul Kreibich, on drum set, said he'd worked with Ray Charles for five years. Ann Patterson, playing tenor saxophone, said she'd worked with Etta James, then confessed, "If you've heard the opening to 'Parks and Rec,' that's my oboe in the theme music." The biggest applause went to electric guitarist Tom Rizzo, when he said, "I played in the 'Tonight Show' band." I asked Paul what it was like playing with Ray Charles. "He demanded quality. He'd get very angry when not getting what he wanted, but he'd jump for joy when it was right. If he liked what you did, he'd make you feel like a million bucks. "He worked very hard, and also loved being a star. He dealt with being handicapped by staying busy all the time, rehearsing, writing music, interviews; he drank gin and coffee throughout the day." "Was he happy?"
"I think so, yes. He loved music, his ladies, and traveling." Paul's playing piano March 31 at the Industry Cafe in Culver City. "It was really fun to play for the Culver City crowd," he said. "We do it for kids, but it's nice to have the parents observe how we interact with the students." Mitch told everyone to snap along to "Pink Panther" music, but one child said he didn't know how. You could see how Mitch loves teaching; he patiently showed five kids in a row how to snap their fingers. It appeared he was enjoying it the most. "We play for a lot of second graders, seven and eight-years old," Paul told me. "It's such a great age - they're sort of aware, but they haven't developed an attitude that's rebellious or resentful; they get snarky at the fourth to sixth grade level. "At this age, as soon as you start playing any sort of beat or music, they start moving and smiling and clapping." I asked what that makes him feel. "I feel very happy myself. When you're playing and the kids respond, it's a very pure thing. They're unaffected. This is why I play music" "Bringing live music to kids is a big deal. Maybe they never saw a violin, or a sax. For many, it's the first opportunity to hear real instruments being played live by professionals. I asked how that intersects with what's happening in the U.S. politically. "It's really horrible that the National Endowment for the Arts would be wiped out. I have a feeling people will find work-arounds for that; I hope it's just shelved till Trump's gone. "There's a weird thing about my business, jazz has been around so long, a lot of conservative people like it. Traditionally wealthy people do experience live music, but jazz is more popular with liberals. I don't think jazz is popular now, for lots of reasons - it's not so much in the published media, not TV or commercials. "Jazz is not dumbed down enough for many people - jazz takes a little more effort to listen to it and enjoy it”Ann Patterson played tenor sax and oboe in the concert. She's worked with Etta James and Sheena Easton. Ann, who lives in Venice, said this concert was mainly about the roots of jazz. "We're probably just going to have to fund arts completely privately. You probably saw that the annual budget for security for Trump Tower is greater than the whole budget for the NEA," she suggested.
Ann's a big fan of education in Culver City. "Culver City is really kind of a cultural island; there's not much going on musically in LA classrooms. With Mitch's program, every kid going through Culver City public schools has a special music program once a week." It's important to expose children to classroom music in the lower grades, Ann believes. She said by the 7th or 9th grade, it's too late for kids because they're already involved with their own music. "I teach jazz appreciation at community college; most students can't even recognize the sound of different instruments. They don't know the names of even the most common instruments. Quite a few have never heard live music before. Musical tastes get extremely narrow, particularly if they never had music education of any kind. All they know is what's part of their own culture of popular music. They can't tell the difference between a trumpet and a saxophone. It's a cultural dumbing down." What's next? On May 7, SJO will have a special jazz singer to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald's Centennial Birthday for their 15th Anniversary Concert. Me? I can't stop thinking of Louis Armstrong's famous comment: "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." What Culver City and Sony are doing, in bringing jazz to communities, is more than just building good will. "If you don't already know about jazz music, how would you be exposed? How would get an opportunity to find out if it spoke to you? If you get exposed to it enough, you might find a taste for it." Esperanza Spalding ______________________________________________ Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything. You can write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org