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‘Education is what Jazz Aspen is about’

CARBONDALE On the performance side of things, Jazz Aspen Snowmass has moved from presenting, in its first year, the likes of Tuck & Patti and the Modern Jazz Quartet, to Elvis Costello and Trey Anastasio last summer.That tends to obscure the fact that the other half of Jazz Aspen’s mission, to educate musicians, has made an equally dramatic leap.Several weeks ago, Jazz Aspen announced the launch of a new program, Pays to Play, benefiting both starting musicians and local instructors. The program will pay for three private lessons for any valley youth, age 7-18, who wants to get started on an instrument. The initiative pays the instructor $50 for each session.This weekend, the District 8 Honor Jazz Band, sponsored by Jazz Aspen, will bring 50 teenage students, from Aspen to Steamboat Springs, to Carbondale for a weekend of lessons and jam sessions with University of Colorado faculty members.Free public concerts will follow the sessions Friday and Saturday. Friday’s concert, featuring the faculty members, is at Dos Gringos Burritos in Carbondale; Saturday’s, spotlighting the students, is at Roaring Fork High School. Both performances are at 5:30 p.m.Jazz Aspen’s education program started literally from nothing. For the first five years of the organization’s existence, 1991-95, an education component was just a dream, as Jazz Aspen tried to establish its name and reputation with concerts and festivals.In 1996, the organization launched its educational efforts with a bang. Backed by a challenge grant from the Danny and Sylvia Fine Kay Foundation, and bolstered by an association with the Washington, D.C.-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, Jazz Aspen introduced its Monk Institute Jazz Colony. The program brought several handfuls of top-level young players to study and jam with bassist Ray Brown, vocalist Dianne Reeves and others.The decade since has been a history of adding programs and expanding the reach. JAS In-Schools brings professional jazz musicians and educators into local schools to work with existing ensembles, and presents free concerts. Pianist Ben Sidran will participate in the program next month, and give a free concert at Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre on March 21. The District 8 Honor Jazz Band provides further instruction for upper-level regional students, and also brings the group to the Greeley Jazz Festival each year.Tickets for Teachers offers admission to Jazz Aspen shows to local music students and teachers. Stuff for Students has filled the equipment needs of the music program of local public schools.And the Jazz Colony has remained a vital resource for top-notch students aspiring to professional careers. Now the JAS Academy Summer Sessions, and no longer affiliated with the Monk Institute, the program now brings five existing bands each summer for two weeks of study with a group of masters headed by bassist Christian McBride, the program’s artistic director. The students all attend on full scholarships.On the other end of the spectrum are the students participating in Pays to Play. The program began simply as a directory of local music instructors, to be organized by Jazz Aspen. With the list compiled, Jazz Aspen began to think about how it could help support the teachers economically. The new program offers that support and also helps kids who have financial barriers to taking private instruction.”This is a great way to initiate new students, get them into private lessons,” said Joe Lang, the director of Jazz Aspen. “And it gives these teachers money for their time well-spent.”Parents can sign up for the Pays to Play program through the Jazz Aspen office, at 920-4996. Parents are asked to sit in on the lessons.Names like Bob Dylan, Wynton Marsalis and Widespread Panic – all of whom have appeared on Jazz Aspen stages – will always dominate the public’s attention: “The blessing and curse of our festivals is that people don’t know we’re a nonprofit, and have been from the beginning,” Lang said. “But I wouldn’t say we’re underappreciated, because anyone who knows what we do, or participates in what we do, is extremely appreciative of what we offer.”And Jazz Aspen continues to look at new ways to bolster its local efforts, all organized under the Local Education Initiative. The organization is hoping to start building a music library by May 1, located at Roaring Fork High School, housing music charts, CDs, instructional DVDs, software and more. The library would be available to all local music programs.”Education is what Jazz Aspen is about,” said Lang, whose two young kids both play electric guitar. “That’s our mission, to educate and preserve music. The festivals are almost secondary.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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