Performers: remember what came before you

Here I was, at peace with the world and going about my merry way in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains and, lo and behold, what should I receive, but several emails and telephone messages from HW jazz musicians, parents. and alum. All expressed concern for the manner in which, in three interviews, a jazz student and my young successor opined some rather self-aggrandizing thoughts as a result of an obviously stilted view of our jazz program – one which I characterized as “nothing happened before ME!

It was suggested that HW Jazz had not been active in competitions, had not facilitated student performances off-campus and had not brought professional jazz musicians to campus. Here are the facts that were readily available to anyone the least bit interested enough to do a little research before spouting such nonsense:

From 1970 – 2006 we won a host of jazz competitions including a national combo competition, had the highest number of finalists and first-place winners in Spotlight Awards, won a statewide competition sponsored by UCSB twice and won first place in the San Fernando High School Jazz Competition. Our primo players including Taylor Parsons and Cameron Penn were, at that time performing in LA jazz clubs week after week. Our big band and several of our combos performed regularly at Dante’s (the longest existing LA jazz club at the time), Lighthouse and several other clubs. Brian Green won out over all high school jazz guitarists in America to be chosen as guitarist for the Grammy High School Jazz Band. Sid Corbett won the BMI International Competition. Max Haymer represented the USA at Montreaux Intl. Jazz Festival. Seventeen former HW Jazz students are playing professionally ‘in jazz’ and nine are major film studio orchestra players right now. Former members of the Explorers play with the LA Philharmonic, have opera commissions from the Berlin Opera, direct MGM music in Germany, compose original scores for Disney studios and one recently won “Best New Jazz Artist” in France. Anthony Wilson was nominated for a Grammy and is featured on Diana Krall’s best-selling albums.

As for bringing pro jazz players to campus we were in full steam long before Herbie Hancock’s visit last year. The artists who I personally brought into our classroom included: Dizzy Gillespie, Lalo Schifrin, Oscar Peterson, Alex Acuna, Tommy Newsom, Art Pepper, Frank Morgan,Akioshi/Tabakin Big Band, Chet Baker, Jack Sheldon, Chico Hamilton, Louie Belson, Buddy Rich, Shelly Mann, Art Blakey, Gerald Wilson, Clark Terry, Stan Getz, Bill Conti, Lionel Hampton, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Roberts and the Wynton Marsalis combo.

Scholarship does not end with a chapter, an assignment, a semester, a project or what we ourselves happen to know. Never assume that three or six years of education at a great school enables one to speak to the history or tradition of the school with any more than a three or six year-old perspective. Generally speaking personal perspectives are limited by experience, exposure, awareness and last but not least – personal agenda. Each student and each teacher brings something unique and special ‘to the table.’ Assumptions are like ‘bad jazz’ – they come from ego and little experience.

— Jerome Margolis