Visitors jazz up education

Jason Marsalis is one of the premier jazz drummers and vibraphonists today. He is also the youngest brother of the famous Marsalis family of New Orleans jazz royalty that includes Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

Earlier this month, he and a few friends from the jazz world made a stop to work with White River School District music students.

Some referred to the visit as an outrageous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students.

“We are extremely fortunate to have him as a guest,” said Laura Telman, music teacher at Foothills and Wilkeson elementary schools who arranged the visit. “It is a very exciting opportunity and is exposing the kids to talent unlike anything they have ever heard. This is like the music equivalent of Tom Brady or Bruce Willis coming to the school.”

The jazz quintet started the morning Sept. 12 with a clinic for middle and high school jazz and concert bands.

“As a saxophone player I would be lying if I didn’t mention the fact that I was a bit skeptical that I would be able to learn much from a band that didn’t even have a saxophone player present,” junior Jake Johnson said. “I found that the essence of jazz and where Jason’s music came from was still able to move me and provide to me a good foundation.”

“My goal was to inspire my students with a high level performance, but what I got was much more than that,” WRHS music director Tim Fleming said. “The musicians were able to relate the true nature of jazz and how it transferred into so many aspects of their lives. My students walked away with a much wider perspective than when they came in.”

Telman said elementary students are still buzzing about the visit.

It was an opportunity that happened her way. She jumped at the opportunity to bring the group in when her friend, Ed Littlefield, recorded with the group and said they would be touring in the area. She asked if they would stop by Buckley and the answer was yes.

As a teacher Telman said she knows not every kid will become a professional musician, but her mission is to give them an appreciation of music.

At the elementary level, the musicians performed a concert and sprinkled it with educational information.

Telman said students at Foothills Elementary spent the week prior to the visit researching jazz and the performers in their classrooms. She said she hopes the exercise and the visit makes jazz less abstract and elitist for students.

“I create consumers and appreciators of music,” she said. “If everyone was a musician there’d be no one to listen.”