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Thank You: Spratan jazz band relished Long Beach experience

January 26, 2002

The Spartan jazz band from Central Union High School in El Centro has just returned from the jazz conference sponsored by the International Association for Jazz Education.

For three and a half days, from 10 a.m. to beyond midnight, our students participated in workshops and clinics on jazz rhythms and improvisation theory and techniques; listened to panel discussions and live interviews; heard more than 20 high school and college jazz bands from all over the country perform. The students spent hours in the exhibit hall combing more than 100 booths collecting free CDs, reeds, T-shirts and posters. They used their own mouthpieces to play the $8,000 trumpets, tenor saxophones and trombones on sale.

There were 7,000 attendees representing 35 nations of the world. Several workshops and lectures were given in Japanese. My son marveled at a saxophonist from the former Soviet Union who could discuss music in four languages: I overheard one woman talking about making her sixth trip to the Soviet Union and how exhausting it was to work there as the musicians were so exacting and highly disciplined.

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Every evening we were in the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Convention Center for the concerts. Quincy Jones addressed the universal core of jazz music when he said, "Every American child can share the musical heritage they have been left by playing jazz."

We were privileged to hear James Moody play with Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band; the U.S. Air Force Band of the Rockies "Falconaires," the Bob Florence Big Band; the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra; and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with Dee Dee Bridgewater. When Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band played their last two salsa numbers, almost everyone in the 1,758 capacity theater was on their feet dancing.

The highlight of the conference was the Dave Brubeck Quartet. As Dave Brubeck carefully shuffled onto the stage his eyes were focused only on the piano bench. He spoke to us in a slow, raspy voice as he bent over the grand piano keys. When he began to play, he was suddenly 29 years old again. His fingers moved instinctively up and down the keyboard. He smiled and his head bobbed in complete satisfaction and delight as he and his partners sent musical signals to each other by nodding, smiling wider and winking. Alec Dankworth, the bass player, whose bushy white eyebrows wiggled up and down as he hunched over his large instrument, plucked unceasingly throughout the one-hour concert. Every seat in the theater was taken and people leaned against the walls and stood in the aisles. As Bobby Militello soloed on his saxophone, the audience gasped in startled amazement as he proved to be a genius of improvisation. Randy Jones, on the drums, had white hair also, but was clearly the youngest group member. He kept the same big sweet smile that grew even wider during his solo.

They were the masters of fingering, breathing, articulation and performance. They didn't play notes written on paper; instead, music flowed spontaneously from their souls out their fingertips. The applause was deafening as the those in the theater showed their admiration and gratitude.

Thank you, Mr. Fragale and Miss Jones, for approving the trip to Long Beach. Thank you, Mrs. Baker for having the forethought to know how much the students would enjoy the conference, arranging the trip and making it possible to take part in such a wonderful learning experience.

MADELINE CONTRERAS

El Centro

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