Youth jazz ensemble forming with hopes of keeping jazz fresh

Courtesy photo

The best way to train future all stars might be via established all stars.

So it is with the NWA Jazz All Stars, a group of 17 (probably) high school students who will assemble after a series of auditions wraps up Monday. The goal was to have 17 last year as well, but an intense competition for the drummer’s spot inspired a tie that was resolved by inviting both into the band, creating a percussion spot and letting the two players alternate behind the kit.

Last year, 38 applicants tried out for the group. For its second incarnation, 47 will vie for one of the spots. Those selected into the band will be taught by professional jazz musicians for 12 weeks. The program will culminate with a live performance on April 30, which is International Jazz Day. The concert takes place inside the Starr Theater at the Walton Arts Center.

NWA Jazz All Stars Youth Ensemble

When: 8 p.m. April 30
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Tickets: $7

The band is part of the WAC’s Jazz Education Initiative, which seeks to spread the gospel of the American art form.

“We’re trying to make this music more ubiquitous in our culture,” says Robert Ginsburg, curator of jazz for the arts venue and also the executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society.

The 12-week program is designed to build jazz proficiency and appreciation in the group members. Ginsburg says that at many high schools, marching band is the focus. For other students, like those who are homeschooled, there simply might not be an opportunity to play in a jazz band at all. Even those already in a jazz band might get something from the program, Ginsburg says.

“They don’t get the focused training that we feel could be very helpful,” he says.

The training comes from a group of seasoned players, many of them with ties to the Fayetteville Jazz Collective. This year, as an added bonus, the students will have a day of instruction for internationally renowned jazz musician Conrad Herwig. The trombonist will visit at the end of the program, leading in to the International Jazz Day performance.

Along the way, the student musicians will receive hands-on training, play in ensembles and work on their improvisational skills. There will also be a recording session at the end of the program so the students can document their work.

“It’s a really all-encompassing program for these kids,” Ginsburg says.

Ideally, it will churn out students who love jazz and carry that love forward as ambassadors of the genre. They’ll also be better players, Ginsburg says.

“We’ll really throw them in the deep end, and they’ll learn. You can know how to play notes, but that doesn’t teach you how to swing. [Jazz] has inflection that can only be learned by being on the bandstand,” he said.

Something 17 Northwest Arkansas students will get the chance to learn this year.