Jazz Festival a teachable moment

March 14, 2016

Gabriel Childs, a senior at Sabis International Charter School in Springfield, plays at the HCC Jazz Festival on Saturday. Guest artist George Garzone conducts a clinic at the HCC Jazz Festival Saturday.


Finding one's way in the music world can be daunting, but events like the Holyoke Community College Jazz Festival can help guide young musicians on their journeys.   

For the 19th annual festival, held Friday and Saturday in HCC's Fine and Performing Arts Building, organizer and HCC music professor Bob Ferrier brought in noted tenor saxophonist and music educator George Garzone, both to perform and conduct workshops for college and high school students.  

Garzone, a well-known innovator in the jazz world, has taught at Berklee College of Music for more than four decades, as well as other schools, including the New England Conservatory, New York University and Northeastern University.  

His former students include jazz stars Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, and Danilo Perez, and hundreds more have gone on to find careers in the music world, as teachers, sidemen and performers. Music students from western Massachusetts and beyond soaked up his knowledge on Saturday in a pair of jazz clinics.  

His number one tip: "If you're going to be serious, you really have to practice. Commit to it every day ... Practice has to be No. 1 in your book. If you don't want to practice, you should think about being something else," he said. "It takes work."  

That has never been a problem for festival participant Gabriel Childs, a senior at Sabis International Charter School in Springfield who has been playing guitar for six years.  

"We didn't have to tell him to practice," said his father, Steven Childs. "Sometimes it was the opposite where he was playing so much I'd tell him to go play a video game or something ... I used to play and we had guitars around the house. Gabriel has surpassed me already. HIs passion for music, all kinds of music ... As soon as he got a guitar in his hands, everything else faded away."  

Gabriel Childs, who has already been accepted at Berklee, is a member of his school's jazz quartet, which played Saturday morning before an appreciative crowd. Others in the talented group included pianist Jordan Johnson, bassist Aidan Smith and drummer Tariq Woods.  

This is the second time the quartet from Sabis under the direction of Rich Quinn has performed at the HCC Jazz Festival. The group has also performed at a festival at the University of Massachusetts last year, at the Big E in West Springfield, and before 2,000 people last October at a state Charter School event at the Boston Park Plaza.  

The goal in coming to events like the HCC festival, said Quinn, "is to get them comfortable playing before anyone. They are driven kids."  

After the Sabis quartet performed, three of them joined in a jam session and workshop in another part of the building to play with high school and college students they had never met before.  

"It's really great to have this communication with other musicians," said Gabriel Childs. "It's like having a conversation. The hardest part is figuring out the style of the other, then you just have to fit in."  

Among the other performers in the improvisational group with Childs was Westfield State University sophomore and trombonist Brandon Paige of Easthampton. This was his sixth year attending the festival. Paige shined in his solos on the Miles Davis classic "Freddie Freeloader."  

Afterward, Paige was beaming when talking about the experience. "I love playing with fellow musicians," he said. "Music is the universal language. You're always learning as a musician. It's a beautiful feeling here at the festival."  

Paige said he wants to be a middle school band teacher and also continue to play in public, which he already does regularly with The Expandable Brass Band in Northampton.  "The entire time we're playing it's a jam session," Paige said.  

Much of Garzone's question and answer session with students at the morning clinic had to do with technical aspects of playing, including ideas on the best way to warm up, selection of equipment, and how to break bad habits.  

"I spend a lot of time (at Berklee) unraveling these kids when they come in," he told the Jazz Festival audience. "I tell them to stop thinking and start listening."  

He explained several of his techniques for practicing: Make practice-room playing different than when you're on a bandstand; and practice long notes to develop tone.  

Among the other schools performing on Saturday were contingents from Easthampton Learnin Foundation, Holyoke High School, Enrico Fermi High School of Enfield, Conn., Westfield State University and HCC. All brought a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for their art.   Peter Grimaldi, a trumpeter and HCC Jazz Ensemble director who performed night with Garzone as part of The Amherst Jazz Orchestra during the festival's Big Band Concert Friday night, was a big fan of the festival that combined teaching and performance.  

"They get to experience a professional like George Garzone, who is at the top of the field," Grimaldi said. "They get to interact and learn that they are real people."  

Grimaldi said that having guest artists like Garzone, and Sheila Jordan and Yusef Lateef from previous years, shows that "It's not a myth than you can be a professional musician. Parents are skeptical of that, but seeing someone like Garzone shows you can do it ... but you have to work."  

Or, as Garzone told the budding musicians: Practice, practice, practice.  

PHOTOS by DON TREEGER: (Left) Gabriel Childs, a senior at Sabis International Charter School in Springfield, plays at the HCC Jazz Festival on Saturday. (Right) Guest artist George Garzone conducts a clinic at the HCC Jazz Festival Saturday. 


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040