"Better guitars than guns," reasoned Monterey Jazz Festival board member Jackson Booth to explain the festival's emphasis on mentoring and education to connect talented teens with musical masters.
Booth said the board for the world's oldest continuous jazz festival strongly supports mentoring by master musicians and experienced educators who play significantly roles in developing the performance presence of young musicians and developing excellence to keep jazz alive and thriving.
Parents attending the festival to support their creative offspring said they appreciate the extra effort by MJF masters and officials because they help keep young musicians focused and out of mischief. Jason Goldman, director of the award-winning Los Angeles County High School for the Arts jazz ensemble, and LACHSA Music Department Chairman Dan Castro, said MJF's jazz education programs provide additional discipline and more performance and touring opportunities.
Paul Contos, a master reedman, doubles as MJF's jazz education director and conductor of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, an all- star band of the best teen jazz musicians in the United States.
"These kids are simply amazing," Contos said as vocalist Brianna Rancour-Ibarra, 17, joined NGJO to entertain students from Pacific Grove and Carmel middle schools at a Thursday children's pre- concert before the main festival Sept. 20-22.
"Every year I am overwhelmed when I hear these kids. Don't let their age fool you. They are the top drawer of the best high school jazz players in the nation. In 40 years, they'll be even more extraordinary."
Barbara Priest proves Contos' prediction. A MJF talented teen when she was 15, she completed a music/French horn performance degree at Cal State Northridge and a second bachelor in education at Cal State Fullerton. Playing jazz since she was a Monterey High sophomore, she maintains her chops in several regional groups and develops another generation of musicians directing two jazz bands, two concert bands and two orchestras at Pacific Grove Middle School.
"Jazz is the foundation for modern music. Once kids understand the theory and chord progressions, they can create their own music," Priest asserted. "It's important to learn improvisation because it puts you out there, lets you take a risk and builds your musical character."
Brianna, an outstanding soloist winner at MJF's Next Generation Jazz Festival spring competition and the judges' pick as the NGJO vocalist, is a June 2013 LACHSA graduate. She sang in the school's vocal jazz ensemble directed by Patricia Bass and now majors in commercial music/composition and arrangement at Azusa Pacific University. She was in the MJF award-winning LACHSA jazz choirs for four years and has sang, composed and played piano since she was 5. Academically gifted, she is in APU's Honor College. She'll be 18 on Oct. 19.
Brianna toured the nation this summer with the NGJO. She said her MJF experiences allowed her to meet and interact with such musical masters as Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, Trombone Shorty, Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott, Chris Potter and Hiromi.
"Her voice is like chocolate cake," Contos said, describing Brianna's rich resonance, depth and range. "She's amazing. She sounds like Ella without mimicking Ella."
Singcopation, Mt. San Antonio College's vocal jazz choir conducted by acclaimed director Bruce Rogers, took its second win at MJF's Next Generation festival. It won the collegiate vocal jazz division in 2010. Its thoroughly professional and exciting set packed the nightclub again this year.
Kevin Shannon of La Verne, 26, a blues guitarist and former Singcopation tenor, couldn't contain his excitement as he watched his peers perform. He understand the excitement because he'd felt it performing in the 2010 choir. He slapped his thighs in rhythm with the 13 vocalists from the Inland and San Gabriel valleys.
Equally enthralled were Singcopation alumni David Morton and Kirstin Jorgensen Morton, now married and parents of two children. David, an Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Monterey's Defense Language Institute, was a baritone with a tenor range. Kirstin was a soprano.
Shannon and the Seaside couple cheered with others in the awed audience. Festival fans Samantha "Sam" Wilson, an UC Santa Barbara sociology major, and her mother, Nancy, were among those admittedly overwhelmed by Singcopation's powerful performance.
"I don't remember what age I was when I became a jazz fan," Sam said, "but seeing and hearing this high caliber of young performers is a real thrill for me."
David attributed Singcopation's success to Rogers' solid direction, singers' natural talent and the family feeling in the group.
"Bruce emphasizes living and feeling the music, making it more than an art form, letting it become an essential part of your mind and spirit," said David.
Experiencing jazz "at this high level is better than anything they can learn in the classroom," Rogers interjected. "There's only so much you can get from a book. Being a part of this vibe means young people will keep jazz alive."
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