The question is often raised at regional and national high school jazz band competitions: Why do the schools in the Puget Sound region always win top honors?
Maybe part of the answer to this question is found in the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (SRJO). Many of its members are as comfortable in the classroom as they are on stage, and the group is dedicated to passing its knowledge of jazz to the next generation.
Among its members, SRJO includes UW professor Michael Brockman, Cornish College of the Arts professor Randy Halberstadt, Garfield High School director Clarence Acox, Roosevelt High School director Scott Brown, Mercer Island High School director Dave Bentley, and many private music instructors.
For Brockman, who is co-artistic director of the group with Acox, performing and teaching are mutually beneficial.
“Performing adds constantly to my teaching,” he said. “Every time I give a performance it refreshes for me the list of things that my students need to be trained in and that I know are important in pursuing their own careers. It keeps me very honest. I know immediately at the close of a performance what I want to share with them — what went well and what didn’t go well. It makes my job as a teacher a lot easier because the material is right at my fingertips, based on my own experience.”
In addition to individual teaching positions, for the past 13 years SRJO members have put on $1 concerts through “Jazz for Kids.” The Saturday matinees are played to a sold-out house at Benaroya, with members of the group demonstrating instruments, answering questions, and encouraging kids to dance in the aisles. Kennelly Keys even sets up instruments in the lobby for kids to try out.
In addition, SRJO established a “Jazz Scholars” program five years ago at Denny Middle School. It provides professional musicians to coach students and support Marcus Templeton, the school’s band director. According to Brockman, the program has helped change the entire culture of the school.
“The band has grown from 20 to 180 kids,” Brockman said. “It’s become cool to play an instrument, and now the kids have a peer group to belong to. It’s a message that gets lost in the discussion of budgets — that the environment of a school can be changed greatly by that kind of activity for the kids.”
SRJO performs six times a year at Benaroya and the Kirkland Performance Center. Its April 13 and 14 concerts will spotlight Duke Ellington.
For more information about Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, visit www.srjo.org.