• Georgia Jazz Academy gives free lessons, rentals to students

    By: ANN MEYER AMEYER, Savannah Morning News

    Updated:
    SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Jazz pianist Eric Jones started piano when he was 5, because his grandmother had a piano and allowed him to mess around with it, he told students at the School of Humanities at Juliette Gordon Low Elementary on Oct. 3.

    "My grandmother had a piano, a real piano in her living room," he said, and played a few notes for the students seated on the floor of the gymnasium.

    Jones, who has taught music as an adjunct instructor at Savannah State, will teach instrumental music to 30 Savannah-Chatham County fifth-graders after school next semester, when the Savannah Music Festival launches the SMF Jazz Academy.

    The new program is being funded by Ron and Susan Whitaker and other donors, said Jenny Woodruff, director of education and community engagement at the Savannah Music Festival. Woodruff spoke to the Savannah-Chatham County school board Oct. 2 about Musical Explorers, a program for students in kindergarten through grade 2, and announced the new jazz program.

    "We've had teachers and community members asking what we can do for older students. I'm really excited to announce to you we'll be launching SMF Jazz Academy," Woodruff said. "National research shows strong correlation between participation in arts activities and improvements in reading and math."

    Jones, who performs piano at Good Times Jazz Bar and Restaurant, the Jazz Corner on Hilton Head and with the Savannah Jazz Orchestra, said the Savannah Music Festival approached him about providing instruction for the new after-school program. "It's worth putting some effort to build the academy, to build community when we have kids who don't have a chance to study music."

    FROM MOULTRIE TO JAZZ

    Raised in Moultrie in Southwest Georgia, Jones said he couldn't afford piano lessons when he was young, so he taught himself how to play melodies like "Lean on Me."

    "I'd get home from school, go straight to the living room because that's where the piano was. It was fairly out of tune, but I would play different songs off the radio," he said. "I drove my folks crazy. They didn't like it because I just would do it all the time."

    But then he started playing at church. "From piano, playing in church, that's when I really started to improve," he said. "I had a lot of fun doing that." Jones decided to join a band and picked up the trumpet when he was 11.

    For a while he tried to practice both, he said. In the end, he settled on piano. "I did something we call improvisation," he said. He demonstrated "happy" music and "sad" to the students. "I would just sit down and make up stuff."

    Then he decided he wanted to go to school to study music and make music his job, he said.

    In high school, a "really cool" music teacher introduced him to jazz.

    When Jones asked the Juliette Low students what jazz is, students said "slow," ''smooth" and "swinging." One student replied, "music that most people don't like."

    "I beg to differ," Jones said. He demonstrated Louis Armstrong's deep, distinct voice.

    "Jazz is all about the freedom to express yourself," he said. Through music, Jones told the students, "we can communicate without even talking."

    Jones studied music in college and played in bands. "All of these different experiences led me to music," he said. "Sometimes I even get to travel."

    TEDDY ADAMS IMPROVISATION

    Trombone player Tom "Teddy" Adams, a teacher for over 60 years, demonstrated an improvisation where he played a tune and asked the students to respond. "In church, the preacher is the caller," he said. "The response comes from you sitting in the audience."

    "When I say something, when I improvise, I want you to say what I said," Adams said. He played a tune, and the students responded.

    The good thing about jazz, Adams said, is once children learn how to play music, they can play freestyle. "You make your own music. That's what we're doing. The better you learn to play the instrument, the more music you can create. The more music you create, the happier you will be and the happier you can make people."

    "This is my passion, and whatever I can do to further it, I appreciate it," Adams said.

    The SMF Jazz Academy, scheduled to start in January, will be held after school five days a week at the School of Humanities at Juliette Gordon Low Elementary, Woodruff said. Rental instruments will be provided free of charge. Students can put down their top two choices of instrument, such as trumpet, trombone, drums and keyboard. "The goal of this program is to create positive and progressive change in Savannah," Woodruff said.

    The program will run from 4:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and offer academic assistance during the first portion, where students will have time to do their homework. The second portion will provide private lessons or ensemble rehearsals, said Jessica Messere, manager of the SMF Jazz Academy.

    The program is partnering with the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which will provide academic assistance and dinner. Savannah-Chatham County public schools will provide transportation for students who don't attend Low Elementary. "We're combining our resources," Messere said.

    The Savannah Music Festival also provides a music appreciation program for students in kindergarten through second grade in Chatham, Effingham, Liberty and Bryan counties in Georgia and Beaufort County in South Carolina. Last year, Musical Explorers served over 10,000 students. The Savannah Music Festival provides professional development for teachers and supplies a teachers' guide and CD along with an interactive site, musicalexplorers.savannahmusicfestival.org, and online resources. At the end of the semester, students are invited to musical concerts in genres related to the Southeast.

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    Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com

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