Jazz in schools

Scot Marshall

Scot Marshall combines his knack for story-telling with his upright-bass skills to educate youth about jazz and life.

Scot Marshall combines his knack for story-telling with his upright-bass skills to educate youth about jazz and life.

Photo By David Robert

To contact Scot Marshall regarding Swing Dogs, aka Brass Knuckles Jazz Band, and their In-Tune-Tales and Elements of 20th Century American Music jazz programs, call 771-2831.

Scot Marshall’s enthusiasm for school kids, his own or anyone else’s, proves that a truly American art form like jazz can inspire even the youngest listeners. His Swing Dogs jazz band, known to local adults as Brass Knuckles, combines jazz music with popular children’s stories when performing the In-Tune Tales program. They also present the educational Elements of 20th Century American Music program. The full band dazzles young audiences in school auditoriums with a look at jazz as the original American music form.

Swing Dogs’ members have been playing together with various changes in personnel since 1998. The idea to take jazz into Northern Nevada schools began when Marshall’s sons asked him to tell them about jazz. Bedtime stories about Louie Armstrong and Bucky Jones evolved into written stories recited orally by Marshall, while accompanied by guitar, horns and bass.

Seasonal In-Tune Tales favorites, such as Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, expose youngsters from kindergarten through sixth grades to professional-quality jazz right where they are best able to appreciate it. Sources for In-Tune-Tales also include African-American and Jewish folk tales, the poetry of Robert Frost and Acadian tall tales.

The Elements of 20th Century American Music program gets students, teachers and parents involved, teaching all to recognize jazz rudiments like call-and-response technique or improvising.

“We feel that it is very important to get the best music possible to the youngest audiences able to enjoy it,” said Marshall, “and it really thrills the kids.”

Marshall also said Swing Dogs’ programs expose city-raised children to the idea of oral tradition. Marshall, always the MC for the band’s programs, encourages young students to ask parents about life, growing up, and what people did for fun when their parents were young, then use those stories to begin their own oral tradition.

Marshall, who plays upright bass, often brings local guitarists Lin Phillips or Terry Scott along to both In-Tunes and Elements programs. Both artists have accompanied Marshall for weekly gigs at Rapscallion Seafood House in Reno.

“Both of these guys are incredibly expressive with their playing,” Marshall said, “and that’s invaluable when teaching a concept like improvisation.”

Drummers Jeff Bond and Bob Bacha both swing with the Dogs at Elements performances. Versatile artists, Bond and Bacha have played with such recognized talents as Cami Thompson and Danny Morona. Bond is an in-house drummer for Circus Circus, while Bacha played with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra.

Marshall’s trios also perform for local churches and libraries. Last year’s Thanksgiving gig at the North Valley Library in Stead packed nearly 200 people, kids and adults, into the compact venue.

“We just love having Scot and his band members here,” said Washoe County librarian Beate Weinert, “because their show introduces these kids not only to jazz, but to much larger social concepts.”

Weinert referred to the 2003 Swing Dogs’ rendition of the short story The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The tale illustrates unconditional love and implies that even adults are really still children inside. When Swing Dogs perform this piece, as the character of The Boy picks the tree’s apples, Marshall plucks at the upright acoustic bass’s strings: one, two, three. As the limbs are sawed off the Giving Tree for The Boy’s lumber, Marshall draws his bow across the bass strings, simulating a harsh sawing sound.

“It’s really a very hands-on multi-media approach to teaching and learning,” Marshall said, “because we invoke visual, auditory and emotional stimuli.”

Marshall, whose dulcet vocal tones Truckee Meadows residents may recognize from his previous job as DJ and announcer on Smooth Jazz 92.9 FM, also sings numerous standards and jazz selections. Marshall can regularly be heard holding forth at Rapscallion, the Enoteca Jazz Lounge downstairs at the Siena and other jazz-oriented venues.