All That Jazz Deck
By Bill Johnson / April & May 2012
One by one, each musician stepped forward to take a turn with an improvised jazz solo. With no notes to read, they relied on their knowledge of the harmonic structure of the song. On this night, eighteen of them, from ages nine to seventeen, came for a chance to apply their technical skills (or their "chops," as jazz musicians say) by playing with a quartet of top-flight professionals.
The Gold Coast Jazz Society organizes this monthly opportunity for young musicians to play before a live audience. More than 75 people filled the room at the library in Fort Lauderdale. This was an enthusiastic audience of parents, supporters of the young musicians, and interested jazz fans.
Among the young musicians was thirteen-year-old guitarist Jake Pardo of Pompano Beach. After taking up the guitar, he played blues and classic rock, but gravitated to jazz. Asked what he thinks about while improvising, he referred to a quote by legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who said: "You've got to learn your instrument, then practice, practice, practice. And then, when you get up on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail." That is what Pardo tries to do. He takes Parker's advice to heart and plays "almost all day on weekends."
Fifteen-year-old Sam Sternfield of Deerfield Beach began playing at age eight. He plays sax, flute, clarinet and piano. He practices in the school band room at every opportunity and practices as long as two hours a day at home. Medicine and music is what he want to study in college. Sixteen-year-old guitarist Andrew Forman of Delray Beach spent last summer at Berklee Music College in Boston and usually practices three to five hours a day. "There's nothing else I want to be (than a musician)," he said.
The youngest of the bunch was nine-year-old Miquel Russell, who came from Miramar to play conga drums. "He's serious about it," said his dad. "He plays better with adults than with kids." Eleven-year-old Kobie Alleyne, also from Miramar, rapped out a rapid-fire be-bop style solo on the steel drum. He grew up in a family of steel drum players and began improvising at an early age, his mother said.
While the student musicians are in various stages of development and confidence, they know how to play their instruments, said professional drummer Lenny Steinberg. "Now, they need to work on finesse," he said. On this night, with each musician performing a solo, the jazz society's musical director Eric Allison said, "This may last until Sunday."
The group finished with a rousing treatment of "Lester Leaps In," a favorite among jazz musicians. The show last long enough to propel the supportive audience to its feet, in recognition of the talent of the young musicians and they work they put in to develop it. "This is a great program," said one parent, "and I'm pleased to be associated with it."
But the future of the jazz jam is questionable. Pam Deardon, the executive director of the jazz society, explained that a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has expired. Now, in its fourth year, the jazz jam must pay its own way. So financial support is needed to continue next year.
During the school year, the session is presented the first Friday of every month at 7:30 p.m. The library is at 1350 East Sunrise Blvd. The public is welcome. Attendance is free. Learn more about the Gold Coast Jazz Society at its web site, www.goldcoastjazz.org.
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