Jack Kenny listens in on a project that is bringing jazz into schools
Jazz," one writer said, "is the sound of surprise." The students at Ainsdale High School, Southport, who filed into the main hall at lunch time were about to find out why, thanks to radio station, jazz fm.
At the front of the hall were drums, with cymbals gleaming, a bass lying on the floor, an electric piano over on the right. Then Ralph Bagge head of operations at jazz fm introduced himself and the Patrick Clahar quartet. Over the next hour, Clahar with his tenor saxophone gradually drew in his audience with jazz history, classic jazz pieces and versions of the Flintstones theme and Killing Me Softly.
Clahar, who has worked with Diana Ross, says: "Jazz is such an amazing music and we welcome the chance to share it with schools and to work with students. It would be good if this could lead to something like the college band scene in America, which has produced so many musicians."
The radio station behind this schools initiative, jazz fm, operates in London, Manchester and the North West. The station broadcasts jazz seven days a week, 24 hours a day and has a potential audience of 3.9 million adults.
Between now and July, jazz fm Interactive, as the project is known, will go into at least 17 schools in the North West. Why?
"We want to build the audience and also attract families," says Ralph Bagge. "A great many people feel that jazz is intimidating and they are not sure about it. I want to take young musicians into schools so that they can see that not all jazz is difficult and that it can be played by people only a little older than themselves. It is hard for young people to hear live jazz, it's often played in pubs and clubs so we chose schools because they are natural venues for families."
Bagge has deliberately chosen young musicians to help out. "In any field there are usually role models that kids can relate to. There is no one like Ryan Giggs in jazz. All the people who get the publicity are almost of pensionable age. There are some great young players who you never see on TV. This is our way of getting a band together that young people can relate to. We hope that it will be inspirational and motivating for anyone learning an instrument. We have already met music teachers who have not realised until now what a complex, disciplined music jazz is."
For Bagge this is also something of a personal crusade. "We want to be more than a radio station, we want to create an environment where jazz can be on the radio, in the schools, in the small halls. We don't see ourselves as just a radio business; we are a jazz business."
Pauline Rust, head of music at Ainsdale welcomes the jazz fm initiative. "We leapt at the chance of getting musicians in," she says. "It is so important that students have this kind of experience. Jazz can increase access to music because teaching about music has to have breadth as well as depth." The department has a music studio equipped with more than 30 keyboards and teaches jazz.
The core of the jazz interactive day was an afternoon workshop with school musicians. Clahar directed the session starting with general work and then students clustered round members of his group who acted as tutors. Clahar had instilled enough confidence so that students were not afraid to experiment and improvise. Katy Ball, for instance took over the drums from the group's drummer Tristan Mailliot and was soon propelling about 30 musicians.
Nick Reed, a trumpeter at the school enjoyed the work. "It was brilliant. There are no wrong notes when you improvise, even if you play one, you can make it right by getting it to fit."
In the evening a concert took place for parents and students with the Quartet sharing the bill with the school's Ainsdale High Young Jazz band. Ralph Bagge reflects "Everyone wins from this: we get our message across; the kids have been stimulated by the experience; it is a real event that everyone will remember for some time. We hope that the audience will be moved and have warm feelings towards the music."
jazz fm in London broadcasts on 102.2; and in the North West on 100.4. Schools in the North West area interested in taking part in the schools jazz project should contact Ralph Bagge on 0161 877 1004.