Sunday, June 12, 2011

Music feature: Bak Middle teams with Juilliard for week of jazz workshops

The Bak Middle School for the Arts Jazz Band.

By Bill Meredith

Until recently,‭ ‬you weren‭’‬t likely to hear mention of the local Bak Middle School of the Arts and the Juilliard School in New York City within the same sentence.

Starting Monday,‭ ‬that will officially change when Juilliard‭’‬s world-class faculty and graduate students come to Bak to educate‭ ‬81‭ ‬students,‭ ‬ages‭ ‬12-18,‭ ‬in one of its series of‭ ‬weeklong‭ ‬Summer Jazz Workshops‭ ‬2011.‭ ‬The series commemorates the‭ ‬10th anniversary of Juilliard‭’‬s Institute for Jazz Studies,‭ ‬and Bak was one of only six schools selected worldwide for participation.

Bak‭’‬s profile as a free magnet arts school has risen gradually at the site of the former North Shore High School,‭ ‬located on Echo Lake Drive just south of the old jai alai fronton in West Palm Beach.‭ ‬That rise has been more pronounced since Palm Beacher Dora Bak donated‭ ‬$1.5‭ ‬million in the name of her late husband,‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Richard Bak,‭ ‬and gave the Palm Beach Middle School of the Arts a new name in‭ ‬2002.

The school offers conservatory-level arts programs in band,‭ ‬keyboard,‭ ‬strings,‭ ‬vocal music,‭ ‬dance,‭ ‬visual arts,‭ ‬theater and communications to more than‭ ‬1,350‭ ‬Palm Beach County children in grades‭ ‬6-8.‭ ‬Many graduates go on to attend high school at the affiliated Dreyfoos School of the Arts,‭ ‬formerly Palm Beach and Twin Lakes high schools and located near the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.

But Juilliard‭? ‬It was founded in‭ ‬1905‭ ‬as the Institute of Musical Art,‭ ‬and became the Juilliard School of Music in‭ ‬1926‭ ‬when the institute merged with the Juilliard Graduate School.‭ ‬That musical institution had been founded two years earlier,‭ ‬through a bequest in the will of wealthy textile merchant Augustus Juilliard.‭ ‬When dance and drama were introduced into‭ ‬the curriculum in the‭ ‬1950s and‭ ‬1960s,‭ ‬its name was shortened to the Juilliard School.

Juilliard has since produced award-winning dancers,‭ ‬choreographers,‭ ‬authors and actors‭ (‬those include Kevin Spacey,‭ ‬Laura Linney,‭ ‬Kevin Kline,‭ ‬Robin Williams,‭ ‬Ving Rhames and William Hurt‭)‬.‭ ‬Alumni have collectively won more than‭ ‬62‭ ‬Tony Awards,‭ ‬47‭ ‬Emmys,‭ ‬24‭ ‬Oscars and‭ ‬16‭ ‬Pulitzer Prizes.

Yet music is still what the school is best-known for,‭ ‬a fact underscored by more than‭ ‬105‭ ‬collective Grammy Awards.‭ ‬Juilliard‭’‬s classical products include cellist Yo-Yo Ma,‭ ‬soprano Renee Fleming,‭ ‬and violin virtuoso and current faculty member Itzhak Perlman.

Jazz musicians benefited from Juilliard lessons long before the school established its Institute for Jazz Studies,‭ ‬as evidenced by a list of students that includes Miles Davis,‭ ‬Chick Corea,‭ ‬Wynton Marsalis,‭ ‬Nina Simone,‭ ‬Tito Puente,‭ ‬Christian McBride and Michel Camilo.‭ ‬Current jazz faculty members include former Davis bassist Ron Carter,‭ ‬piano icon Kenny Barron,‭ ‬heralded trombonist‭ ‬Steve Turre,‭ ‬and bandleader and noted session drummer Carl Allen,‭ ‬the‭ ‬artistic director for Juilliard‭’‬s jazz program.

‬Among Juilliard‭’‬s Summer Jazz Workshops,‭ ‬Bak joins only the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon‭ (‬where the workshops are held‭ ‬simultaneously with Bak‭’‬s‭)‬,‭ ‬North Atlanta High School‭ (‬June‭ ‬20-24‭)‬,‭ ‬the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St.‭ ‬Augustine‭ (‬June‭ ‬27-July‭ ‬1‭)‬,‭ ‬Trinity College at the University of Melbourne in Australia‭ (‬July‭ ‬3-9‭) ‬and Snow College in Ephraim,‭ ‬Utah‭ (‬July‭ ‬10-16‭)‬.

Cleve Maloon,‭ ‬Bak‭’‬s director of bands,‭ ‬facilitated the partnership with Juilliard through his connections‭ ‬--‭ ‬and his diligence.

Cleve Maloon and the Bak Middle School Jazz Band.

‭ “‬I first contacted Juilliard about a year ago,‭ ‬because I knew they were coming as far south as Atlanta,‭”‬ says the‭ ‬45-year-old Maloon.‭ “‬So I talked to Laurie Carter,‭ ‬executive director of Juilliard‭’‬s jazz program,‭ ‬and told her that we had the facilities,‭ ‬and the reputation for excellence,‭ ‬to do summer jazz workshops here,‭ ‬too.‭ ‬A lot of other things had to happen to make it all possible,‭ ‬including major corporate sponsorship by Jon Smith Subs and others.‭ ‬And a couple of area music stores,‭ ‬Chafin Musicenter and Music Man,‭ ‬offered scholarships.‭”

Born on St.‭ ‬Thomas in the Virgin Islands,‭ ‬Maloon is a trombonist who once opened for Bob Marley.‭ ‬He‭’‬s also played with other reggae icons like Steel Pulse and Third World,‭ ‬as well as in classical orchestras‭ ‬and jazz big bands.‭ ‬And it didn‭’‬t hurt his case that he had a friend and fellow Virgin‭ ‬Islands native who was teaching jazz saxophone at Juilliard.

‭“‬My first call was to Ron Blake,‭”‬ Maloon says,‭ “‬who's a saxophonist and boyhood friend.‭ ‬He comes down here every year to perform with our jazz band,‭ ‬and he'll be here to teach during the week.‭”

Allen,‭ ‬the Juilliard Institute for Jazz Studies‭’‬ artistic director since‭ ‬2008,‭ ‬said Blake brought the idea to him and Carter.

‭“‬And here we are,‭”‬ he said.‭ ‬“One of the things we look for is geographic areas that express an interest.‭ ‬There are hot spots around the country for music and jazz education,‭ ‬and the area between Jacksonville‭ ‬and Miami is one of them.‭ ‬So it‭’‬s not about why we‭’‬re going to a middle school,‭ ‬because Cleve Maloon and Bak have a great program there.‭ ‬It‭’‬s about developing relationships,‭ ‬and subsequently the next generation of jazz musicians.‭”

The‭ ‬50-year-old Allen has been part of the Juilliard faculty since‭ ‬2001.‭ ‬A Milwaukee native,‭ ‬the drummer studied classical music at the University of Wisconsin and jazz at William Paterson University‭ ‬in New Jersey,‭ ‬has several recordings as a bandleader,‭ ‬and has worked with Freddie Hubbard,‭ ‬Branford Marsalis,‭ ‬James Moody,‭ ‬Dewey Redman,‭ ‬Pharaoh Sanders,‭ ‬Lena Horne and Sammy Davis Jr.

Drummer Carl Allen.

‭“‬This will be our fourth year at North Atlanta‭ ‬High School,‭”‬ Allen says,‭ “‬our seventh at Snow College in Utah,‭ ‬and our first at Bak.‭ ‬It‭’‬ll also be our third year at the Georgia Academy for the Blind,‭ ‬but also our first at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.‭ ‬There‭’‬s so much talent at schools‭ ‬like those,‭ ‬and we always seem to come away feeling like we got more out of it than the students.‭

“We‭’‬re doing our second year in Australia,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬and I just got back from Japan and Korea,‭ ‬where we‭’‬re looking to add workshops next year,‭”‬ he said.

Bak‭’‬s jazz workshops‭ ‬will feature instrumental-only concentrations in trumpet,‭ ‬saxophone,‭ ‬trombone,‭ ‬guitar,‭ ‬piano,‭ ‬double bass,‭ ‬electric bass and drums,‭ ‬but no vocal program.‭ ‬The intensive five-day camp will run from‭ ‬9‭ ‬a.m-5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬each‭ ‬day,‭ ‬and will begin with Monday‭’‬s placement exams,‭ ‬during which intermediate students will be required to play Duke Ellington‭’‬s‭ ‬C Jam Blues.

‭“‬It‭’‬s only two notes,‭”‬ Maloon says,‭ “‬so I don‭’‬t think any of them will have trouble reading through it.‭ ‬And having a vocal program would have,‭ ‬I think,‭ ‬taken the whole camp in a different direction.‭"

Advanced instrumental students can choose between the jazz standards‭ ‬Blue Bossa,‭ ‬Autumn Leaves,‭ ‬Stella by Starlight and‭ ‬Now‭’‬s the Time.‭ ‬All may also be asked to play one major and/or one minor scale using two octaves.

Following their placement,‭ ‬students will participate in small combo and large ensemble studies,‭ ‬individual practices,‭ ‬listening and jam sessions,‭ ‬and preparation for a closing‭ ‬6‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬concert at the Bak Middle School of the Arts‭’‬ Mainstage that‭’‬s open to the public Friday.‭ ‬The lessons will be designed to give young jazz musicians a taste of the Juilliard student‭’‬s life,‭ ‬including emphasis on refining technique and performance,‭ ‬and broadening their understanding of improvisation and jazz styles‭ ‬--‭ ‬all for‭ ‬$350.‭ ‬Jeff Chafin of Chafin Musicenter,‭ ‬and John and Dixie Jarvis of Music Man,‭ ‬provided scholarships to students who couldn‭’‬t afford the tuition.

‭“‬Our prices are lower than the other schools‭ ‬offering Summer Jazz Workshops,‭”‬ Maloon says.‭ “‬It's very affordable,‭ ‬but it was also first-come,‭ ‬first-served through applications,‭ ‬not auditions.‭ ‬So even though we were initially expecting around‭ ‬45‭ ‬students,‭ ‬we finally had to cut off the total at‭ ‬81.‭ ‬There's a kid coming from Wisconsin,‭ ‬one from Virginia,‭ ‬a few from Orlando and the Florida west coast,‭ ‬and some from Broward and Dade counties.‭ ‬And I made sure that area band directors knew about it,‭ ‬so many are coming from throughout Palm Beach County.‭”

Like Allen,‭ ‬Maloon studied at multiple colleges and universities‭ (‬Augustana College and Northwestern University,‭ ‬both in Illinois,‭ ‬and the University of Iowa‭) ‬after moving to the United States in‭ ‬1984.‭ ‬Now in his‭ ‬10th year as Bak band director,‭ ‬he‭’‬d worked previously at multiple area high schools since moving to South Florida from Illinois in‭ ‬1996.‭ ‬He‭’‬ll be present for all five days of the Summer Jazz Workshops,‭ ‬even if he doesn‭’‬t know what his exact role will be.

‭“‬I'll mainly function as a facilitator,‭”‬ Maloon says.‭ “‬I plan to‭ ‬be in the background,‭ ‬although I‭’‬ll do whatever‭’‬s needed to make things run smoothly.‭ ‬There are‭ ‬12‭ ‬to‭ ‬15‭ ‬Bak students who‭’‬ll be here,‭ ‬and they get my instruction all the time.‭ ‬I want them to experience‭ ‬the Juilliard teaching methods.‭”

A‭ ‬sax player takes a solo for the Bak Middle School Jazz Band.

Juilliard was founded in the early‭ ‬20th century to provide an American educational alternative to U.S.‭ ‬classical prodigies,‭ ‬who often had to attend European conservatories to achieve higher learning.‭ ‬Yet Maloon is‭ ‬impressed at how far the school‭’‬s jazz studies program has come in only‭ ‬10‭ ‬years.

‭“‬I think Juilliard‭’‬s‭ ‬jazz program is already equal to its classical side in stature,‭”‬ he says.‭ “‬Their entire staff is the best of the best,‭ ‬a who‭’‬s-who of jazz that‭’‬s based in New York City,‭ ‬where you can play and listen to jazz as well as study and teach it.‭”

In the fall of‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬Juilliard received‭ ‬2,466‭ ‬undergraduate applications,‭ ‬of which the school admitted only‭ ‬7.4‭ ‬percent.‭ ‬Bak admits nearly three times that percentage through its auditions,‭ ‬although far more still get turned away than get accepted.

‭“‬There are a lot of students who are preparing earlier now than in the past,‭”‬ Maloon says,‭ “‬so it can get tough statistically.‭ ‬I‭’‬m there for every audition,‭ ‬and I think I had‭ ‬215‭ ‬kids who auditioned this year for only‭ ‬40‭ ‬spots.‭”

So does Maloon think he might have a future Juilliard student‭?

“Sure,‭”‬ he says.‭ “‬I have former students who are studying music now at the Manhattan School of Music,‭ ‬Oberlin Conservatory,‭ ‬and Yale.‭ ‬And another who‭’‬s‭ ‬going into her graduate program,‭ ‬and‭ ‬plans to audition at Juilliard.‭”

After a year in preparation‭ ‬--‭ ‬which reached a breakneck pace once Bak started its summer break‭ ‬June‭ ‬6‭ ‬--‭ ‬Maloon sounds one-third exhausted and two-thirds exhilarated a few days before‭ ‬the start of the Summer Jazz Workshops.

‭ “‬It's been hectic,‭”‬ he says with a sigh.‭ “‬But Juilliard is trying to address nearly every level of music student here,‭ ‬which I think is great.‭ ‬I‭’‬m really looking forward to meeting the kids,‭ ‬and working alongside these great undergraduate students and instructors.‭ ‬Carl Allen has done it all,‭ ‬Brandon Lee is one of the youngest Juilliard faculty members ever,‭ ‬and even though Ron Blake and I grew up together,‭ ‬I still love to watch him at work.

‭“‬The University of Illinois asked me to teach at a trombone camp this summer,‭ ‬but I turned them down.‭ ‬I had to stay here for this.‭”

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