The long reach of jazz
New York jazz program comes to Nor Cal to teach and play
Hans Schuman is a busy man, to say the least. As founder and artistic director of JazzReach, he’s on tour serving communities all over the country from late September through May each year, reaching somewhere between 35,000 to 40,000 young people annually. Jazz music, as Schuman explained, doesn’t need his organization to save it, though.
“The art form itself will always be evolving and will always be vital as long as there are musicians playing it,” he said during a recent interview. “That’s not to say the culture will always be vital. I feel like we’re serving the culture through the music.”
Now in its 22nd season, JazzReach, a New York City-based nonprofit, is bringing its impressive repertoire of educational programs to the North State. During a week of outreach—April 11-17—coordinated by Chico State’s Chico Performances and various area arts councils, JazzReach is touring five Nor Cal counties and providing a point of entry to jazz culture through workshops and contextualized live productions aimed at young people from third grade through college.
“It’s a way for the university to do outreach to the counties we serve,” said Daran Goodsell, Chico Performances’ marketing and publicity coordinator.
In addition to the educational stops, there will be concerts (two in Butte County) by the Metta Quintet, the performing arm of JazzReach. While the insanely diverse talent of the Metta Quintet as an autonomous artistic branch is in itself a suitable reason for jazz fans to be excited, its existence under JazzReach gives a whole other level of richness to the ensemble.
JazzReach comprises several multimedia educational stage productions focusing on different contexts of the story of jazz and its influences throughout history. One such production is the interactive Get Hip! program (which will be presented to Oroville-area elementary students on April 15), designed to illuminate jazz’s cultural origins as it pertains to the creative self-expression contingent of a jazz ensemble. There’s also Big Drum/Small World, a globally themed multimedia experience culled from the commissions of original music by a slew of prominent international jazz musicians, such as Puerto Rican composer Miguel Zenon.
“Jazz has never been more available to young people. It’s just they’re not aware of it to the extent that they know to look for it,” Schuman said.
In terms of the relevance of the JazzReach mission, Schuman believes it’s as important as ever. With the splintering of genres by the music industry, and the cultural mash-ups of composers throughout the world, there’s an opportunity to preserve jazz’s identity without attempting to define it in any one box.
“You’ve got young people who are raised in the church and on hip-hop, and they’re bringing all of these elements into the music and innovating,” Schuman explained. “You’ve got the influence of world music and electronic music and dance, pop, rock. Jazz musicians always have really big ears and are always exploring and have a tendency to be curious.”
The Metta Quintet provides just such a diversified point of entry for audiences not quite in the loop of current stylistic trends in jazz. Schuman is the group’s drummer and he’s joined by Greg Ward on alto sax, Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax, Rashaan Carter on bass and Glenn Zaleski on piano.
As a bit of a stepping-out from the educational umbrella with the Metta Quintet performances, Schuman and company are fulfilling a little more of a sovereign desire, artistically speaking.
“It’s always been my intention to have the ensemble stand out beyond what we do in arts education,” Schuman said. “It’s proven to be easier said than done.”