Playing Through the Changes
Friday, June 19, 7:30 p.m.
Streamed on Facebook, YouTube, Jazzhousekids.org
Seventy-five alumni of Jazz House Kids will perform a tune together at the “Playing Through the Changes” benefit concert tomorrow, June 19.
Together, in a way of speaking.
They will not be in the same room.
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They will not be performing live — the delays in all internet platforms prevent making music online together.
Instead, the 75 alums who make up the Alumni Super Band recorded their parts on their phones, to a backing rhythm section, and sent their parts in.
In addition to the alumni performance, NBC News’ Lester Holt (who is also a bass player) will host, introducing segments that include live special guest appearances and concert footage from Jazz House archives of Chick Corea, Dianne Reeves, Eddie Palmieri, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sheila E., Jazz House Kids president and founder Melissa Walker, and many more. The segments were curated by Jazz House artistic chairman Christian McBride.
The gala had been scheduled to take place last month at the new City Winery location on Pier 57, but was canceled due to COVID-19.
Now, it will be streamed on multiple platforms at 7:30 p.m.
June 19 is also Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating 155 years since slavery ended for people in Texas, often considered the end of slavery.
It’s a fitting time to celebrate “America’s homegrown music,” Walker said in a release. All of the money raised during the online benefit will support Jazz House Kids, to keep faculty working and performance programs going.
GETTING IT TOGETHER
“It is a virtual big-band performance,” said trumpet player Nathan Eklund, Jazz House Kids’
coordinator of big bands, of the 75-person video. “It’s going to function like a studio recording. But one of the things that’s really great about the virtual setting, and doing it the way that we are, is swapping in and out of different musicians to get as many of them involved as possible.”
On a real stage, only so many people could be there. Moving people in and out would be a logistical headache.
Everyone could be included who wanted to be, he said.
“For instance, we have 10 alto saxophonists that are a part of it. So basically, what we’ve done is we split them into five sections, because normally you have two alto saxophones playing in a big band. And so if you watch the whole piece, each set of two alto saxophonists are basically playing for a fifth of the chart.”
Recording in advance does mean that people cannot take energy from one another and improvise their solos live. But, Eklund said, big-band music in general is a more structured kind of jazz music, because it involves 17 musicians, usually five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. With that many people, “you can’t just say, ‘Everybody do whatever you hear’ and expect it to function and flow.”
Eklund and jazz faculty member Ed Palermo worked together to produce the tune. Jazz House faculty Abel Mireles and Peter Lin edited the video selections together.
To make sure that people played together, alumni were sent an arrangement of a rhythm section that had drums, bass, piano, a lead trumpet, and a lead alto as a reference track.
“When you watch it, you’ll see everybody’s got headphones on,” Eklund said.
Drummers would be sent the reference track without the drums and just hear the piano, bass, and so on, he said.
Zach Adleman, 23, is one of the drummers in the performance. The Juilliard jazz performance studies student started a group called the Alumni Steering Committee that
has held meetings over Zoom.
Playing in this performance, Adleman said, is “one way that we can all basically give back to Jazz House, which is a program that basically inspired me to play jazz at all, which is my career in life.”
The 2015 Montclair High School graduate is also working professionally and intends to be a performer and teacher.
Adleman played the drums for the reference track. People were sent the track and sheet music. And though the choices for who would play what, and where, were made by the video editors, the audience will see people playing from all over the country.
Adleman helped keep track of who was playing with an Excel spreadsheet.
“I was also a section leader, so if any drummers had any issues recording, or questions, they could ask me,” he said.
The pandemic made the alumni connection that much more important, he said. “A friend of mine lost his father because of the pandemic. And I was very concerned about him. Between my sentiments about caring for the community, and Melissa [Walker’s] idea, we thought, ‘Why don’t we have an alumni online reunion,’ since that’s what everybody is doing. This would be a perfect thing for this community.
“This would be an avenue for us to actually just be together again, especially in such a pressing time.”