in my humble opinion

All that jazz

Posted 2/7/24

I have an aversion to the word “process.” Maybe it’s me, but it’s nondescript. It can be a teensy bit pretentious at times and (IMHO) is overused in the world of arts and …

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in my humble opinion

All that jazz


I have an aversion to the word “process.” Maybe it’s me, but it’s nondescript. It can be a teensy bit pretentious at times and (IMHO) is overused in the world of arts and entertainment. 

There are synonyms aplenty and some of those resonate (oops—there’s another one) a bit more. Words like method, system, practice and technique work better for me, but at the end of the day I’m often more interested in how it all came together, rather than the end result—be it a work of art, a character study, a Broadway musical or a concert. 

When I got wind of the Liberty Central School District’s (LCSD) 26th annual Liberty Jazz Festival, (held on February 3), I contacted middle school band director Eric Aweh and asked if I could attend a rehearsal instead of the concert itself. You know, to get an idea of the process and possibly have an opportunity to meet some of the kids. 

I asked how one wrangles more than a hundred middle and high school students from Liberty, Monticello, Tri-Valley and Livingston Manor in order to create a cohesive presentation culminating with an actual jazz ensemble.

 “In that case, I would recommend coming to the workshop,” was Aweh’s response. “C’mon by and see for yourself.” 

The workshop referred to was a clinic held prior to the concert for all parties concerned, in which the prodigies had an opportunity to work with a renowned jazz artist during the day, before collaborating for the performance. 

The musical clinician chosen for this year’s concert was Sam Newsome, a music educator and well-known trombonist in the Hudson Valley.

In addition to his teaching credentials, New Paltz High School band director Newsome’s experience performing with The Big Smoothies, the Bottoms Up Jazz Band, The Cromatix and the Newburgh Symphony served to make him a perfect choice to work with the young musicians, and I looked forward to seeing him, Aweh and fellow coordinator Dan McConnell putting it all together.

Pulling into the lot, I gave That Dog Named Gidget strict instructions. “Mind your p’s and q’s, young lady, and under no circumstances is howling allowed. Be good,” I said, wagging a finger in her adorable face. “Otherwise we can’t stay, and I really want to see and hear how it all comes together!”

I managed to slip in almost unnoticed, while quietly making my presence known to the adults, surreptitiously making my way around the gym, snapping photos and soaking it all in. Newsome was working with the Liberty Middle School group, animatedly encouraging them while providing tips and tools to help fine-tune their technique for a jazzed-up rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” 

“I’m overwhelmed,” I said to Aweh. “I’m not sure what I expected, but these young folks sound amazing! If you had to sum up this experience in just a few words, what would they be?”

“This festival is such a great opportunity for the students,” he replied, beaming. “They get to make wonderful music, work with a great jazz artist like Mr. Newsome and bring the community together. By the way, it all started with Gary Siegel; he’s the reason for all this.”

I texted Siegel and asked for a comment before chatting with some of the kids during a quick rehearsal break. To say I was impressed with their talent, demeanor and professionalism would be an understatement. “Yes, it’s a lot of work,” said Monticello High School pianist Chelsea Walz when asked about the long hours of practice, “But it’s also a lot of fun.”

Glancing at the sheet music in front of Liberty’s Michael Tocco, I marveled at his prowess playing such a complicated composition. “It’s not all that difficult,” he responded with a shrug and a smile. “Can I pet the dog?” 

Band by band, I made my way through the various groups, all of whom echoed the same sentiments as Chelsea had. Hard work, lots of fun. A great sense of camaraderie filled the air as Newsome and the individual band leaders did their thing, expressing genuine excitement for the musicians—encouraging, stimulating and teaching them the art of musical finesse as they prepared to perform for the audience later that day. 

I may not have stayed for the main event, but I got exactly what I had come for—a peek at the technique. Pianists, guitarists, horns, drums and flutes all came together that afternoon along with sax, woodwinds and an upright bass or two making fantastic jazzy music that still echoes in my mind. Wow, man. Just wow.

Later that day, I received a note from Siegel, the former director of music at the LCSD, who had this to share: “It’s so great to see the tradition carry on! The annual Jazz Festival continues to provide the opportunity for students from all over Sullivan County to come together and share their musical skills in a non-competitive manner while having fun. Music is the universal language,” he wrote, “and this festival is another example of why it is so important to support [that] and the arts as part of the core curriculum in our schools.” What he said. 

Fun Fact: “All That Jazz” is a song from the 1975 musical “Chicago,” written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, as well as the title of the 1979 film starring Roy Scheider as a character strongly resembling choreographer/stage and film director Bob Fosse. 

all that jazz, imho, Liberty Central School District, Liberty Jazz Festival, That Dog Named Gidget, Music in schools, Monticello, Tri-Valley, Livingston Manor


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