When the dates for Ben’s and Zack’s graduations came up, we had a dilemma in that the events were a month apart. This is too far apart for us to take off the middle section from work, but flying out twice in the time would tax the resources. Zack had the compromise: attend his final jazz band concert, which would be two weeks after Ben’s graduation. Great idea: Act 1: graduation, intermission: RV trip, Act 2: jazz band concert.
The Las Vegas Academy is a magnet school for the arts, which Zack has attended. In addition to the standard high school curriculum and advanced placement classes, each student participates in a performance arts program according to his or her talent and interest: music, choir, theatre, dance,visual arts, etc. Zack has expressed musical interest for some years, working his way to the trombone eventually.
Our first awareness of the talent at this institution occurred a couple of years ago when Tom gave us a CD of one of Zack’s concerts. I have been listening to jazz for 30 years. I sat in awe in concerts and jigs with Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hamptom, The Modern Jazz Quarter, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ru, and even sat at the bar with Dorothy Donogan between sets. I was blown away. We lent the CD to Linda’s cousin’s husband, Dave, who gained an ear for big band in high school when he saw Maynard Ferguson play. He was amazed. This group is hot. It swings. It bops. It gets sultry. You do not have time to check your watch to see how long until the concert is over. We arranged to attend the winter concert a year ago. The night of music was worth the flight to Las Vegas.
This concert was titled, LVA Unplugged. Linda has some reservations when she recognized jazz composers, such as Charles Mingus, Pat Matheny, and Thelonious Monk, whom I appreciate, and she classifies under the windy-jazz category of our CD collection. Of the dozen songs listed, at least she recognized some more tuneful numbers. LVA includes a guest artist program, in which an established musician works with the students in training sessions and then performs with the groups on several numbers. This concert’s guest pianist was Benny Green. The jazz band program has several levels of bands, each which performed three to six numbers. The jazz band instructors, Robert Logan Biles and Patrick Bowen, guide the students through the program and present awards in a variety of categories and scholarships. They obviously have a great affection and concern for the students. Working in jazz and working with high school students requires dedication to the art of music and the art of teaching.
Jazz is music of improvisation. While the program lists songs in a certain order, expect that the program will change as the evening goes on. Linda’s trepidation about some of the numbers may have melted away when the Jazz 1 group swung right in with Prime Time, with rich harmonies and precise rhythms pushing the melody along. Then they slipped into something more comfortable, with a Latin beat on Quiet Night of Quiet Stars. By the time the guitarist played the Pat Matheny solo in Song for Bilbao, she hardly noticed that the horn-sounding melody was coming from his strings (by the way, I saw Pat Matheny in Seattle in 1981, when he was touring in album As Falls Witchata, So Falls Witchata Falls, yeah, that is album, as in vinyl). So, put two grand pianos, a full rhythm section, saxophones, trombones, trumpets, and even a French horn and 25 to 30 students on the bandstand, and enjoy an outstanding evening. Unplug the casinos for an evening. There is no gamble with this ensemble.
Miles Davis wanted to play the silences between the notes. Thelonius Munk wanted to play the notes between the while and black keys. They should have studied at LVA, where the students know where to drop a beat and blend a chord.
If you cannot get to Las Vegas for one of these concerts, they have released a CD, of which I have one. No, you may not borrow it, but come on by and have a listen. Need one of your own, I bet if you contacted the LVA jazz department (http:/lvajazzband.com), they would be happy to take your contribution to help fund more programming.