I experienced one of the many aspects of my new position here at KUHF Wednesday. As well as serving as host and executive producer of The Front Row I also get to host various arts events around town, and the first of those was earlier this week.
Each month, Da Camera of Houston holds a lunchtime event it calls "A Little Day Music," and invites whoever may be interested to stop by the Wortham Center downtown for a free concert. The series is designed to appeal to a broad range of folks and hopes to catch them during the lunch hour.
Wednesday's concert featured the Houston High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) Big Band. It was the first time the band had played for the Da Camera series, and they debuted in grand style.
Under the direction of Walter Sneed, Director of Jazz Studies at HSPVA, the young men and women in the band showed remarkable talent as they worked their way through standards, such as a very creative arrangement of "Moon River," and onto some jazz rock-influenced pieces, ending with a Latin jazz number.
In true big band fashion, each arrangement featured various soloists from the band who rose to perform their improvised solos, taking their seats again to applause when they were finished. Whether they were saxophonists, pianists, guitarists, trombonists, or drummers, the quality of their playing was very high. You could close your eyes and believe to listening to Glenn Miller or Count Basie.
Afterwards I spoke to a couple of the band members who told me they had both been accepted to the conservatory at The New School in New York to pursue their jazz studies. Each had been to NYC to audition for the program and they are now anxiously waiting to find out if the school will offer them scholarship money.
It was a very pleasing experience to come across two young people who love music and want to pursue it as a career. These guys were both passionate in their playing (they are both pianists) and in their desire to get into the best school they can. Obviously for two young jazz players, the prospect of continuing their education in NYC is something that has them chomping at the bit.
The big band that played before a large audience at the "A Little Day Music" concert was only one of several jazz ensembles at HSPVA. I know that the school was one of the first of its kind in the country and apparently provided much of the inspiration, through Houstonian Debbie Allen, for the performing arts high school in the 1980s TV series "Fame." To this day, HSPVA remains one of the cultural gems of Houston.
If you should ever get the opportunity to see any of the HSPVA jazz ensembles perform, I would definitely do so. These teenagers aren't playing at being jazz musicians, they are jazz musicians, and it sounds like they're getting a grade-one music education in a fine magnet school right here in the Bayou City.
One more reason to rejoice!
Btw, the next Da Camera "A Little Day Music" concert is Wednesday, May 7 at noon in the grand lobby of the Wortham Center downtown. The music will be provided by the Fischer Duo, a husband and wife piano/cello duo. Both players serve on the faculty of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
So, bring your lunch and come enjoy a lunchtime (did I say "free"?) concert. I'll be there as host again and look forward to meeting you.