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Young Musicians Jazz Their Peers

Berklee College of Music jazz group entertains and inspires middle schoolers from Pittsburg Title I schools at Lesher Center for the Arts.

"I was so inspired!” said Lyric Fox, an eighth-grader at Hillview Junior High in Pittsburg, who plays flute and tenor saxophone and wants to study music in high school and college.

She had just watched Ayinde Webb of Oakland play jazz drums and hear how his talent and hard work won him a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

On Sept. 20 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, seven star students from Berklee entertained and inspired 290 middle school music students from two Title I schools in Pittsburg. They were guests of the Diablo Regional Arts Association's Arts Access School Time Program.

The following information comes from DRAA:

The students from Hillview and Rancho Medanos Junior High Schools grooved to the smooth, lively jams, shot their hands up with questions, loudly applauded solos and shrieked and clamored for post-performance face time with the seven musicians.

In their late teens and early 20s, the Berklee performers were not a whole lot older than the some 290 members of their audience Thursday. The performers brought fun, youthful interplay and virtuosity to their music. During an engaging Q&A session, filled with humor, sincerity and insight, they shared how they started playing their instruments at the ages of 9, 10 or 11; trombonist John Egizi started playing his instrument in middle school. Now, the seven are studying at one of the world’s most esteemed music schools and performing professionally, including this past weekend at the 55th annual Monterey Jazz Festival.

“It was great! I was so inspired!” said Lyric Fox, an 8th grader at Hillview Junior High who plays flute and tenor saxophone and wants to study music in high school and college.

While she loved watching Oakland’s Webb play drums, and hearing how his talent and hard work won him a full scholarship to Berklee, she was especially heartened to see a young woman, 20-year-old Erena Terakubo, jam on the alto saxophone.  “I saw her doing some cool things during her solos that I want to try.”

“They were an awesome group!” said Rancho Medanos Junior High teacher Kevin Galloway, who brought his five jazz, wind ensemble and beginning music classes to the performance. He echoed the idea that the Berklee musicians were great role models for his 150 students from Rancho Medanos, a Title 1 school.

“A lot of my students don’t get to see live performances,” he said.
The Berklee Monterey Sextet and Webb, winner of the prestigious Jimmy Lyons Scholarship, stopped in Walnut Creek on their way to perform at the jazz festival. The performers and their audience were guests of the Diablo Regional Arts Association’s Arts Access School Time Program.  

DRAA is the nonprofit partner of the Lesher Center for the Arts. Through its Arts Access program, DRAA annually brings more than 6000 K-12 students from underserved Contra Costa County schools to enjoy live performances at the Lesher Center. DRAA provides free tickets and transportation to students, as well as California standards-based study guides that teachers can use for classroom learning opportunities.  As teacher Galloway said, many of these students have never before seen a live performance. Arts Access serves Title 1 schools where the majority of students meet federal poverty guidelines.

“It’s great for the school,” said father David Sierra, who was chaperoning his daughter’s Hillview classmates. His 6th grade daughter, Carissa, is learning to play the saxophone. “It’s important, especially now in the public school systems where it is getting harder to fund programs that keep kids interested in things like music,” he said.

The college chooses its finest students to perform at the jazz festival. The Berklee Sextet is made up of pianist Matt Savage; alto saxophone player Erena Terakubo; trumpeter Nick Frenay; trombonist John Egizi; bassist Young Hoo Kim; and drummer Anthony Fung.

The six performed several songs, including jazz standards such as “Take the Coltrane” and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates.”  They also presented lively, light-hearted compositions by Savage and Frenay. In explaining the inspiration for his piece, “Leland’s Bounce,” Frenay said the title of jazz songs are often an “after-thought.” This song, he said, was inspired by a friend’s 15-year-old dog named Leland; the dog actually spent most of its time sleeping. “Last thing you would think of this dog was of him bouncing around,” Frenay laughed.

When introducing himself, drummer Anthony Fung jokingly said, “Drums are obviously the coolest instruments,” and proceeded to receive some of the loudest shrieks from the girls in the audience. When Webb was brought out to jam with the group, the kids chanted “Ayinde! Ayinde!”

Webb was a hip, easy-going presence in his purple button-down shirt and beret tilted off to one side. He spoke with gratitude and encouragement about winning the scholarship to Berklee.  “My whole tuition is paid for, and they only give it to people from the West Coast! So you better practice and maybe you can go to school for free.”

He and other musicians were humble about their musical gifts and their success. “I don’t consider myself very good,” said Fung. “It takes a lifetime to learn the drums.” Webb added: “I am in school now so I can learn.”

The musicians also emphasized the necessity of practice, though Egizi said it’s not how many hours you put into practice, or watching the clock, it’s what you put into it. “It’s the sincerity of what you do. If it takes you all day to get one note down, then be patient with yourself. I like to think that my whole life is practice. Everything I do is towards achieving a main goal. I can’t describe what my main goal is but it has to do with music.”

Following the performance, students rushed to the stage to shake the hands of the Berklee musicians, ask more questions and receive hugs. “We’re fangirls!” one Rancho Medanos student declared.
 
Galloway expressed gratitude to DRAA for making it easy for him and other teachers to bring their students to the Lesher Center by booking the tickets and transportation. “I just sent in the paperwork,” he said. He added that the timing of the concert, several weeks after the beginning of the school year, will excite students in the coming weeks and months. “It’s a kick start for the whole year.”

The Arts Access School Time Program would not be possible without the generous support from Target, field trip sponsor; JP Morgan Chase, education sponsor, along with our other season sponsors including First Republic Bank, the Hewlett Foundation, the Dean and Margret Lesher Foundation, Union Bank and Wells Fargo, and all the individual donors who support this program.

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