“Stage” advice

Jazz masters give up-and-coming musicians some words to live by.


When the young women musicians of NJPAC’s fifth annual All-Female Jazz Residency aren’t playing, they’re listening.


The voices they hear are those of the artists whose shoulders many of them will likely stand upon some day in their pursuit of a career in jazz. Names like Marcus Belgrave, Carmen Lundy, Linda Oh, Stefon Harris and Jeff “Tain” Watts – and especially pianist Geri Allen, who directed this program from its inception until her death last year.  


In addition to boasting an ace faculty, this week-long residency enlists some of the most go-to people in the music industry to conduct master classes and serve as guest speakers. Now under the artistic leadership of virtuoso jazz violinist Regina Carter, the summertime residency continues to educate students about life experiences they can expect to encounter offstage, along with valuable coaching on how to perform in the spotlight.


“This program is a full-service experience for young women in jazz. In addition to their instrumental work and performances with some of the leaders in the industry, students receive career counseling and learn to advocate for themselves and their art,” said Alison Scott-Williams, Vice President of Arts Education at NJPAC. “The residency enriches their lives and continues to nurture the future of jazz.”


On July 10, Rio Sakairi offered her perspectives on women working in today’s jazz world. The Artistic Director and Director of Programming at the non-profit performance space The Jazz Gallery in New York, she scouts young talents on the cusp, and boosted the early profiles of vocalist Gretchen Parlato, bassist Ben Williams and many others. Her talk, delivered to about two dozen students hailing from Maine to Texas, and Wisconsin in the middle, naturally centered on how to make meaningful and respectful connections.


“Who you know is important, but how you know is more important,” said the jazz curator, who built The Jazz Gallery into what’s widely regarded as an incubator for the next generation of instrumentalists and vocalists.


Some of Sakairi’s pointers were simply practical, like asking the bandleader what to wear, showing up on time, practicing politeness, and knowing the music. (“Sloppy is not acceptable,” Carter chimed in.) When she’s in search of a new artist, she frequently bypasses the bio for the sound sample, tries not to get distracted by a flashy presentation, and looks beyond technique for originality. “Just because you know English grammar doesn’t make you a poet,” she added.


Explaining that signs of career preferences tend to appear early in life, Sakairi recalled a recent visit to her parents’ home in her native Japan, where she found an essay she wrote at the age of 12. In it, she expressed a wish to own a restaurant or coffeehouse that featured live music.


“Things in life seem random, but if you look back, there’s a thread,” Sakairi said. “You have to think of different ways to make things happen for you.”


Students attend many master classes and lectures in Clement’s Place, a performance space at “Fifteen Wash,” the refurbished Rutgers-Newark residence and study hall at 15 Washington St.


The preceding afternoon, three-time GRAMMY-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington advised students to immerse themselves in the history of bebop, blues and swing, as well as modern jazz. “Everything has a dance,” she said of the power of great jazz to get listeners to move and groove.


To illustrate the importance of putting purpose behind playing, she selected excerpts of recordings such as Mary Lou Williams’ piano on “Tisherome” or drummer Jack DeJohnette – a mentor who taught Carrington how to perform freely within boundaries – with the Keith Jarrett Trio on “The Masquerade Is Over.”


In addition, the young women attended master classes with vibraphonist Stefon Harris, pianist Kenny Barron, saxophonist Tia Fuller, vocalist Carla Cook, and the jazz broadcast triumvirate of Sheila Anderson, Monifa Brown and Nicole Sweeney, all hosts on WBGO-FM. Another all-female trio – artist managers Gail Boyd, Karen Kennedy and Michelle Taylor – led a conversation about mentoring and breaking into the business. The basics of marketing and promotion were shared by Tenagne Girma-Jeffries, Vice President of Promotions for the Women’s Association of NJPAC and a Committee Member of NJPAC’s Arts Education Board.


July 23, 2018