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"Jazz in the Classrom" brought to New Orleans public school students

April 24, 2009

IMAGE: Bassist Derek Nievergelt and saxophonist Antonio Hart

The Thelonious Monk Institute at Loyola University New Orleans introduced its “Blues and Jazz: Two American Classics curriculum to thousands of New Orleans public school students April 21-23 in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month. Grammy-nominated saxophonist Antonio Hart and special guest vocalist Lisa Henry, a winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition, headlined the tour which included a series of assembly programs, jazz band clinics and masterclasses.

Pianist Richard Johnson, bassist Derek Nievergelt and drummer Otis Brown III also performed with the touring ensemble. The assembly programs featured authentic live blues and jazz renditions that enhanced students’ understanding of and appreciation for these musical art forms and their rich history. Each assembly had an interactive lecture about the blues and its influence on jazz followed by questions from students.

Jazz drummer Thelonious Monk Jr., chairman of the institute’s Board of Trustees and son of the legendary jazz pianist and composer, made remarks about the historical effects of blues and jazz on one another and their respective roles as America’s greatest musical contributions to the world.

Schools that participated in the New Orleans tour included Lusher Charter High and NOCCA, on April 21; Eleanor McMain High and Edna Karr High, on April 22; and L.E. Rabouin High, on April 23.

Building on the success of its two previous tours, the 2009 program started in Mississippi and made its first visit to New Orleans. In 2008, the institute’s musicians, featuring multiple W.C. Handy Award-winning blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker and world-renowned jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson, made a return visit to Mississippi, visiting public schools in Indianola, Cleveland and Ruleville.

As part of the institute’s free online “Jazz in America” national jazz curriculum, Blues and Jazz: Two American Classics teaches students about the Mississippi Delta’s leading role in the creation of the blues and the influence it has had on the development of other styles of music, including jazz. Students gain insights into how the blues is incorporated into the styles of jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. The curriculum, designed to be taught by American history and social studies teachers, also traces the blues’ excursion from Mississippi to other cities and regions throughout the country.

Funding for the program has been provided by Carolyn and Bill Powers, in memory of Mrs. Powers’ grandparents, Joe Rice Dockery and Keith Dockery McLean, the late owners of Dockery Farms, which is considered by many, including B.B. King, to be the birthplace of the blues. Dockery Farms is located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, between Cleveland and Ruleville.

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