WILLIAMSBURG — The Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz brought its Peer-to-Peer jazz education program to two Williamsburg-James City County high schools May 22 and 23.
Monday’s program at Jamestown High School featured both an assembly, which the organization billed as an “informance,” followed by workshops with both the jazz band and the choir.
“They were coming to Virginia, and their format is to fit three school divisions in. It was their research that brought them to Williamsburg,” John Rasky, coordinator for fine arts at WJCC schools, said of the opportunity.
The Institute’s National Peer-to-Peer Jazz Sextet is a group of some of the country’s most talented high school music students, hand-picked by the organization to tour and serve as ambassadors of jazz. Joining the sextet were internationally acclaimed trumpet recording artist Sean Jones and Kansas City jazz and blues vocalist and former winner of the Institute’s International Jazz Vocals Competition, Lisa Henry.
“The kids who were on stage today were part of a national search. It showed our students where people can go — that they’re not used to seeing their own age. I mean, they are truly on the verge of being in the business,” Rasky said. “That’s actually not something high school students usually see in themselves. That’s what I would say they got from this. A future that doesn’t look very far away when you see someone your own age in that position.”
“The ability to work with students their own age and get this level of experience and knowledge with them is amazing. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn from your own peers and the level that you don’t normally get to do in a classroom. I think it’s very, very cool,” Lee Ann Chisenhall, the Social Studies coordinator for the event, added.
Jazz educator Dr. JB Dyas, formerly Executive Director of the Brubeck Institute and current Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development at the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz, was also on hand to break down the genre for the enthusiastic student audience.
“They (the audience) were completely interactive, in the best way. You couldn’t have scripted it better,” Rasky said, adding, “We started this not knowing exactly what we were going to get, and it was better than what we thought would happen on the stage. We’ve been looking the most forward to the second part (the workshop) and that’s what we really thought would be the best experience for these kids, but this far exceeded expectations.”
Following a quick lunch, members of the jazz band and choir had the opportunity to participate in workshops with the visiting musicians. Jones led the band workshop, as students played side-by-side with members of the sextet, and Henry worked with the choir.
“It’s really exciting. I’m excited to experience what they have to offer,” Jamestown High School junior Luke Jacobson said ahead of the workshop. “I haven’t participated in a lot of jazz with really high-end musicians, so I’m interested to see what that is going to bring. It’s really cool.”
The members of the all-star sextet selected nationwide to participate in the Virginia tour include 18-year-old saxophonist Leo Milano from Chicago; 17-year-old trombonist Evan Dexter from Los Angeles; 17-year-old guitarist Leo Sandoval from Houston; 17-year-old bassist Camara Dupree from New Orleans; and pianist Jose Andre Montano and drummer Kevin Kearney from Washington, DC, also both 17 years old.
“It’s great, honestly,” Dupree said about the opportunity to work with the Jamestown High School students. “I get to share my thoughts … and also, it gives me a chance to teach the other kids, pass along some knowledge, and maybe, as well, learn from them. It’s really fun.”
WJCC Schools were one of three Virginia locations planned for the sextet’s week-long tour. After an appearance at Warhill High School on Tuesday, the group was slated for stops in Richmond and Charlottesville before wrapping up the week with a pair of performances Saturday at Washington’s renowned Blues Alley Jazz Club.
Founded in 1986 as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, the organization began operating as the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz in 2019 in recognition of Hancock’s commitment to the Institute, a nonprofit educational organization with the goal of providing talented young musicians with college-level training by internationally acclaimed jazz masters and to present public school music education programs.
“We’ve found that sometimes young people can learn about certain things better from kids their same age, and one of them is jazz,” said Hancock, Institute Chairman, NEA Jazz Master, and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “And when you hear how accomplished these musicians are at such a young age, you know their peers are going to listen.”
Learn more at hancockinstitute.org.