Monterey Jazz Festival: Keeping An American Art Alive

Gonzales, CA – When Brian Parker signed on as Music Director for the Gonzales Unified School District, the program started small. "When I first got here on my first day, I had a flute player that did not want to be here. That was the music program I walked into," said Parker. In the eleven years since, the music program has grown to around 240 middle and high school students, while his budget has shrunk. "The size increased as the economy crashed, so it was nice to have the Jazz Festival there to help out," said Parker.

Nearly three decades ago, the Monterey Jazz Festival started up an education program. Dr. Rob Klevan was a teacher at the time. "I was approached by member of the board, Ruth Fenton, who gathered all the music teachers together. This was her push to the board of the Festival. Let's support music programs. Let's get jazz education going. Let's perpetuate this audience because if we don't do that we face dying this art that we love," said Klevan who is now the Monterey Jazz Festival's Education Director.

Since that day in 1983, the Festival has maintained a professional grade instrument bank and sheet music library for area schools. The education programs have also grown to include professional musicians who travel to schools to work with students, a jazz camp and the annual Next Generation Jazz Festival. "You know you walk out of that weekend and say jazz is alive. You know people are saying the numbers are dropping off and it's like no. You just have to come to that Next Gen Festival, and they'll see that's not the case," said Klevan. Students touched by the jazz education programs have returned as professional musicians on the main stage and as audience members. Klevan calls both a success for their programs.

Back at Gonzales High, the students benefit from monthly visits by the Jazz Festival's professional clinicians. And all seven players in the saxophone section of the district's jazz band use Monterey Jazz Festival instruments, including 8th grader Miranda Garcia. "Oh yeah, jazz is my thing," said Garcia. She also loves her brand new Baritone Saxophone. "I feel like lucky," continued Garcia, "like it's new, and it opens up opportunities." Opportunities like hitting notes that she couldn't before. "The sound is just there and the action is just there. She used to struggle with getting certain notes out on the Bari that's been around here forever. And on that one, she just laid down the fingers and it popped right out," said Music Director Brian Parker.

Parker says without outside help from organizations like the Monterey Jazz Festival and parents, it'd be tough for the district's jazz band to survive especially in these economic times. "Since it's not a mandated thing, it can be cut. I'm only here because the district and the board wants me to be here. It's not because I have to be here, so I'm lucky," said Parker.

Proceeds from this weekend's Monterey Jazz Festival will support the Festival's education programs.