"They don't listen to jazz regularly," said Weehawken High School music director Steve Spinosa. "While jazz is recognizable to them, they don't know the names of the songs, but the music sort of clicks in."
The Weehawken-based Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center, in conjunction with New York City's Lincoln Center of Performing Arts, has brought the jazz tradition to the kids of Hudson County with a jazz quartet's recent visits to area schools.
The quartet, the Marcus Strickland Jazz Group, started the four-school tour, called "Let Freedom Swing," at Weehawken High School last Friday, then visited schools in Weehawken, Union City, West New York and Hoboken as part of the two-day event.
"Lincoln Center has an educational outreach program, and in terms of jazz, we are the greatest jazz program in the county," said Bruce Sherman, executive director of the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center. Right now, the Center is just a group, but it hopes to bring an actual center to the Weehawken waterfront in the future.
The non-profit organization is dedicated to expanding the arts in North Hudson and North Jersey. They organize a series of concerts as part of their annual UBS Atrium Series; last year there were about 15 shows presented.
The heritage of jazz dates back to the roots of African folk music and rhythms. Over time it fused with the cultural influences of Caribbean, Latino, and classical musical stylings. Various instrumentals have also taken the sound of jazz. from the syncopated rhythms of Ragtime and blues to the swinging revivals of classic and modern jazz.
"From what I have seen, children today are not exposed to different music genres as they should be," said Sherman. "That is what we [Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center] are all about; trying to let young people know that there is a larger heritage in the States, especially jazz."
Sounds on the riverfront Other than jazz education, the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center has brought performances and workshops on blues, pop, folk, and Latin Jazz among others. The main goal of the organization is to build their performing arts center on the waterfront.
"That site is designated in Weehawken," said Sherman. "It will be a professional performing arts center, but it will be modest."
The vision for the performing arts center, although a final decision has not been reached, is to have a theatre that will roughly seat about 500 to 800 people. The organization is still in the process of more fundraising, acquiring the necessary permits, and coming up with a final design plan.
Sherman said, "We're an independent organization based in Weehawken, but our mission is a regional one."
All that jazz
The Weehawken students were impressed with Strickland's performance, both as a musician and as an instructor.
"It was a fresh presentation," Spinosa said. "They got the kids involved through the Swing music. It was very well done."
Some of the Weehawken students experienced listening to live jazz music for the very first time.
"When you hear it on the radio, it's cool," said Weehawken High School senior Shawn Pierre. "But in person, you get to feel the emotions. It really gets me going. It's the first time I saw it live. Because of it, I came away a lot more impressed than I thought I would be."
Sherman said, "Today there are so many distracting things that can be entertaining by sitting in front of a TV or a computer. The whole experience of seeing a live performance is much less than it used to be."
The kids were allowed to ask questions of the quartet during a Q-and-A session about jazz and music in general.
"I think it was really nice. They are a really good band and they play really well," said Edgar Bautista, 12, of Union City.
"They showcased their talent for us and were trying to teach us about music," said Gregorio Rojas of Union City.
The Jazz in the Schools Tour, a two-week program that occurs twice a year, was developed by Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of their educational mission. For years, the tour has brought professional jazz artists to schools throughout the five boroughs in interactive, hour-long performances. Now, for the first time, they have extended their reach across the river through their invitation by the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center.
"This is the first time it has come to New Jersey," said Sherman. "We reached out to them and they responded. They have a very big education position."
Sherman was able to bring the Marcus Strickland Quartet to four schools in the North Hudson area.
As part of the program, the students are taught the basic fundamentals of jazz by these professional musicians, and get to experience a live jazz concert. The program also celebrates the universal language of music.
The Marcus Strickland Quartet, who have performed all over the world from the states to Spain and France, is made up of Marcus Strickland, saxophone; Reggie Qunierly, drums; John Sullivan, base; and Danny Grissett, keyboard. A New York-based jazz group, they were invited to be the featured guest for the fall tour, which runs from Nov. 8 through Nov. 19.
"It's a great program, and part of the vision of Wynton Marsalis [musical director of Jazz at Lincoln Center]," said Marcus Strickland, 25. "I think it's extremely important to remind [kids] that they have culture here in America, and jazz is a big part of that history."
The quartet's next project after the tour will be a concert in New York City some time in January. For more information on the group, visit marcusstrickland.com.
The Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center is preparing to begin their UBS Atrium Series, which is a monthly series of free lunchtime concerts in the atrium of the office building at 1000 Harbor Blvd. in Weehawken. This starts Thursday, Dec. 2 at 12:30 p.m. with world-renowned guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad.
This season, they will be adding a couple of children's concerts. The first one will be on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 11 a.m. with a special holiday concert with the ever-popular Zucchini Brothers.
For more information call (201) 716-4540 or visit the HRPAC website at www.hrpac.org.