High school music students hung with the best in jazz for a joint Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz (HHIJ) and U.S. Department of Education performance on April 19.
Hosted by U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, the peer-to-peer jazz “informance,” a combination of performance and educational information, featured five talented musicians from high schools in Baltimore and the District.
HHIJ Chairman Herbie Hancock, a 14-time Grammy Award-winning jazz legend, opened the event with a video greeting after which the student Peer-to-Peer Jazz Quintet got things started, playing a 1962 Hancock classic, “Driftin.’”
The members of the student quintet included: alto saxophonists Ebban Dorsey and Quinn Rehkemper from the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA); tenor saxophonist Elijah Woodward and pianist Jose Andre Montano from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District; and drummer Jillian Upshaw from Jackson-Reed High School, formerly Woodrow Wilson High School.
One student from the District spoke about his attraction to jazz.
“For me, it exemplifies a sense of freedom — to create instead of conforming to one specific genre,” Elijah said. “I can transcend all the genres of music.”
When talking about his family’s continued support, the high school senior, who has been accepted by 19 colleges, said, “Once I officially started playing saxophone and once I figured out that I wanted to play jazz, they supported me every step.”
Dr. J.B. Dyas, vice president for education and curriculum development at the HHIJ, led a short “informance” lesson. With the help of the talented youth quintet, the audience received a firsthand look at how musicians build a composition that includes specific notes with room for improvisation.
Dyas noted that jazz, which counts as an American creation, now belongs to the world of music.
“The first jazz recording was made in 1917,” Dyas said. “It was invented through the African-American experience.”
Rounding out the group of performers: Sean Jones, one of the nation’s top jazz trumpeters and composers and the chair of jazz studies at Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and BSA’s director of jazz studies, Ed Hrybyk, who performed on bass.
Both said their lives and careers have been enhanced by working with young musicians.
“A while ago, I decided to split my time between education and performance,” Jones said. “I can take the information I can get from Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and all those I’ve had a chance to work with and bring it back to the students.”
Hrybyk returned to teach at his alma mater in 2018.
“Being back has been unbelievably gratifying and rewarding in ways performance could never really do for me,” Hrybyk said. “When I came back, I wanted to give more than I got as a student. I wanted to focus more on jazz as a legitimate education tract. Historically, BSA has been a very classically-driven program and I’m looking to change that.”
Cardona made a cameo appearance on Latin percussion and proved himself competent in a back-and-forth with drummer Upshaw when the group performed “Watermelon Man,” another Hancock composition.
“Music is a big part of my family’s life,” Cardona said. “There’s a level of listening, interdependence and collaboration that goes on in jazz from which we all can learn.”
A video of the program can be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/bEWunlIypKc.