Students performing at last year's concert.
One of the most consistently depressing facts about modern life in these United States involves the systematic dismantling of music programs in the public schools. Despite the empirical evidence that kids who play musical instruments score higher on both math and English exams, the powers-that-be cannot seem to find a way to keep these programs alive.
As a result, jazz and classical music have been deprived of large numbers of the young players that used to come into the high school and university music programs.
Local real estate developer Howard Berkson is making an effort to mitigate those damages. Berkson is a fellow dedicated to the idea of keeping jazz alive. He's been very successful in business and in 2006 he invested almost $7 million into creating San Diego's premier jazz venue, Anthology, located in Little Italy.
Two years ago, Berkson started the Anthology Jazz Institute, which is held on the campus of the Francis Parker School. Creating an opportunity for kids of middle-school age to catch the jazz bug was important to Berkson, who's been in love with the music since he was a kid himself.
"We wanted to step in because so many important music programs have been eliminated from schools due to budget cuts," said Berkson. "The purpose of the Institute is to engage young musicians when they are the most impressionable in their musical tastes."
One of the great things about this program is that it is taught by local, professional musicians. The director of the Institute is guitarist Nate Jarrell, one of the strongest emerging forces on the San Diego jazz scene, and whose recent CD The Next Chapter served as a compelling calling card to jazz fans.
"Some of San Diego's finest jazz artists and instructors will be on hand to teach and inspire," Jarrell said, "making this a truly exceptional opportunity for aspiring young musicians."
The workshop is split into two one-week sessions. Session I is held from July 23 - 27, and Session II is from July 30 to Aug. 3. Enrollment is open to ages 12-15 and appropriate for all skill levels from beginning to advanced. The course tuition is $650 per week, and a limited number of $250 scholarships will be awarded on an as-needed basis as determined by the Director.
The faculty includes well known San Diego musicians like vocalist Leonard Patton, pianist/vocalist Melonie Grinnell, bassist Justin Grinnell, pianist Danny Green, drummer Mike Holguin, saxophonist Steve Steinberg, trumpeter Ella Steinberg, trumpeter Derek Cannon, trombonist Andy Geib and guitarist Tommy Collins.
"We just secured [international recording artist, pianist] Eldar to do a master class for the kids during the second session, which will be great for the students," Jarrell said. "Eldar is actually an alumni [sic] of Francis Parker."
Here is where it gets really cool: After the week's intensive training, which includes placement in student combos, classes in theory, jazz history and individual instrument master classes, there will be an afternoon concert where the combos perform at Anthology.
"The place is packed with friends and families, and the students get treated just as if they were a national touring jazz act," says Berkson. They get to play on the Anthology stage, with all of its professional features, and they get a pre-concert sound-check with our soundman."
The experience has had a profound influence on all participants. One ensemble from last year's workshop has stuck together, performing all over San Diego.
For more information about the program, go to www.francisparker.org/summerjazz
Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.