Jazz in the Stacks brings NJPAC’s student musicians to Newark libraries.
By Claretta Bellamy
Surrounded by an array of colorful books, people take their seats to hear live jazz in the comfort of their own community. As the musicians arrive and the performance begins, the smooth sounds of the blues amplify the small space. The wails of the saxophone, the accompaniment from the piano and the thundering of the drums combine marvelously for the opening number, “Now’s the Time” by Charlie Parker.
Two children sitting in the front row eagerly wiggle in their chairs as they move to the music, with the excitement expressed on their faces by wide grins. The trio is composed of two students and one music director, who have two grand similarities: They not only represent NJPAC, but they all love jazz.
This event, held in the Newark Public Library’s Clinton Branch on Bergen Street, was this season’s final stop of the Jazz in the Stacks concert series, featuring NJPAC’s Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens. The program was launched for the first time in October 2017 and continued throughout the academic year at different libraries in Newark, ending at the Clinton Branch on May 23.
“I like to express myself on my instrument,” said 17-year-old drummer Malachi Lewis. “I’ve gotten a lot (better) on the drums after I started to push myself. I know that when I get good at something, I like to continue to keep going so I can perfect it.”
Susan Lazzari, the branch manager of the Newark Public Library, said the series has been fun for kids and even gave the audience an opportunity to participate with the performers – with some displaying their own musical talents.
The Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens program grants students age 13 through 18 in the tristate area the chance to enhance their jazz skills with classes that focus on listening, music theory, and ensemble. By taking classes from NJPAC’s Department of Arts Education, students can also learn how to create their own music and are invited to go out into the community and perform.
Mark Gross, who is the Director of Jazz Instruction at NJPAC, performed at the Wednesday evening event with two of his students: Lewis, along with 17-year-old saxophonist Jalin Shiver. Gross has been involved with NJPAC since the early 2000s. He first taught saxophone at Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens for eight years, and is now going into his fourth year as a music director. In addition to being a teaching artist for NJPAC, Gross has toured all over the country as a musician, performed on Broadway, and recorded albums such as his most recent work, + Strings.
“I love working with young, gifted, aspiring students, specifically in the genre that I teach, jazz music,” said Gross. “Coupled with loving to teach and knowing the importance of things that they’re going to need to know, just to afford them the opportunities to succeed is like a double bonus for me; being able to share with them the things that I've learned in terms of the pedagogy of music, and the history of the music.”
Having grown up in the church, Gross first became interested in playing when he was young, looking up to his father, who was a preacher and a musician. After getting an alto saxophone of his own as a gift, Gross began practicing and performing, eventually becoming the talented musician he is today. He has a close relationship with his students, and enjoys passing down his knowledge of music to the next generation. Every year, Gross takes his students to a recording studio, so they can experience and participate in a live recording session.
“I have been in the presence of many legendary musicians, and to learn from them,” said Gross. “And for them to take a special interest in wanting to share their information with me, it is a sort of oral tradition in the way where you get the griot from the masters.”
NJPAC’s Arts Education programs allow students to study a variety of performing arts, including music, spoken word, theater and dance. The Jazz in the Stacks series is a glimpse of what the wonderful program has to offer for students who are interested in mastering their talents.
Jazz in the Stacks has granted unique experiences for both leaders and students. Lewis enjoys the relationships he’s made through the program. He first became interested in jazz at the age of 13 and has been playing since. Jazz for Teens has greatly impacted his life in a positive way.
“It feels really good to be part of a lot of things at NJPAC,” said Lewis. “It changed my life because it opened me up to people who take their instrument a lot more seriously. And it helped me to step up my game as to, not only play by ear, but to play from sheet music and sight read.”
Shiver has also benefited from the program. He has been playing saxophone since the fifth grade, and has gained a lot of knowledge from being mentored over the years.
“I learned a lot of new things about music,” said Shiver. “Different things I can use with jazz. It gave me a lot of opportunities.”
As for the future, both students have dreams of pursuing a career in music. Shiver would like to be a professional saxophonist, while Lewis would like to be a professional drummer, producer and composer.
“I dream all the time about going on tour with different artists, and just playing for people and just becoming my own brand,” said Lewis.
The Jazz in the Stacks series has not only given young students the opportunity to perform jazz music for the community but has allowed NJPAC to increase the community’s awareness of the program and promote arts education to prospective students. For more information about NJPAC’s Arts Education programs and events, visit njpac.org/arts-education-1
Claretta Bellamy is a journalism and video production student at Rutgers-Newark. Her goals are learning about interesting and important topics while traveling the world to write and make a difference.
June 7, 2018