SILER CITY — When JMArts’ Rose Pate resolved to bring Jordan-Matthews High School another special arts project, she began looking for something that J-M’s instrumental music students — and the community at large — could enjoy.
She found it in jazz — Latin jazz, to be specific.
North Carolina-based jazz group Gregg Gelb and La Fiesta Latin Jazz Sextet will lead the JM Jazz Ensemble and select students from J-M’s feeder schools in a half-day afternoon jazz workshop on Jan. 28, followed by a free public concert at 7 p.m. inside the JM Auditorium.
“We wanted to provide a cultural experience for our entire community, for our Latinx immigrant families, to hear some music that is culturally familiar to them, and for all of our families to enjoy this wonderful experience that may be new to them,” Pate, JMArts’ president, told the News + Record. “In Chatham County, we are working hard on trying to provide what they call culturally responsive teaching, which is to be sensitive to and celebrate our students’ cultural experiences ... and we felt like this was a really good opportunity to do that.”
Created in 2011, JMArts is a nonprofit which seeks to enhance arts education at J-M. In recent years, the foundation has provided an acting intensive workshop, an artist residency and a dance workshop thanks in part to grant funding from the Chatham Arts Council.
The Council recently awarded JMArts $1,550 as part of its 2021 Grassroots Art Grants, which will cover half the cost of January’s concert and clinic. Member contributions and fundraising projects will cover the rest.
According to Pate, the clinic will likely begin around 12:30 p.m. and go for most of the afternoon. Besides the JM Jazz Ensemble, JMArts will invite select 8th graders from Chatham Middle and Silk Hope to participate. She’s not yet sure how they’ll be chosen.
“That’s going to be a collaborative decision between their band director and our band director,” she said. “What kind of criteria? It may be as simple as volunteering. You know, the students who are interested, so we’re hoping to have a good response.”
First formed around 10 years ago, Gregg Gelb and La Fiesta Latin Jazz Quintet plays regular gigs at festivals, schools and clubs across the state, according to lead melodic player Gregg Gelb. They’re a registered five-member band with the United Arts Council and regularly participate in Wake County’s Artists-In-Schools program.
“There’s going to be five other members, including me, because we’re going to have a trumpet for these shows and at the school,” he told the News + Record.
A Sanford native, Gelb is a professional saxophonist and jazz composer who also leads other North Carolina-based jazz bands like The Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra and the award-winning Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble. The band’s other four regular members include cross-cultural percussionist Beverly Botsford, jazz pianist Steve Anderson, trombonist and bassist Andy Kleindienst as well as drummer Ramon Ortiz, who’s originally from the Dominican Republic.
“Playing for students live is great,” Gelb said. “We do a lot of that. … We’ve done that all throughout our 10 years of playing together. We do, like, maybe a show once a month in elementary school or middle school or high school. We love doing it.”
So, what’s the plan for the clinic? According to Gelb, they’ll be playing and teaching students a variety of tunes from various Latin American countries. Latin jazz, he said, combines jazz improvisation with Latin rhythms and beats distinct to Latin American, Caribbean and African cultural traditions.
During the clinic, they might offer up a Cuban Mambo or Cha Cha, perhaps a Brazilian Samba, as examples — and then they’ll play.
“I just love it,” Gelb said. “I mean, the reason I like to play it — it’s just got a real upbeat energy to it. To me, it’s very forceful and it just is very moving to me. It’s the precision of the rhythms. ... You’ve seen the inside of a clock, you know, all the gears? It reminds me of that, and there’s so much going on, but it all is synchronized.”
Besides Latin and swing beats, he said, students will also receive exposure to improvisation and depending on student needs, they’ll give general instruction or offer “real technical help.” The group will conduct sessions for trumpet, trombone, woodwind and percussion musicians.
“You know, jazz is listening to each other, responding to each other, following a road map, but then being able to be free with it,” he said. “Improvisation is, you know, we make up music on the spot, but it’s all based on a structure, a plan, but we all have to work together on that plan to develop the music. So, I think I want (students) to appreciate that, and I want them to learn how we play. They’ll learn how we make the music work together.”
During the concert, Botsford will lead select students in a dance, a merengue, Gelb said; the band will also prepare a few students to play a number or two with them on stage.
“‘Oye Cómo Va’ (1962, by Tito Puente) is the one we usually do,” he said. “We give them some written parts to play along, and they improvise with us. We’ve had students improvise for the first time in their lives with us, and they’ve done great.”
Barring a change, Pate said the concert does not expect to limit attendance. Since the event’s indoors, all visitors will be required to mask up.
“We think this is going to be a really fun evening, and we would love to have a great crowd,” Pate said. “If you have not heard Latin jazz, I think everybody will enjoy this.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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