I know of no other town or high school in the Quad Cities area - or of any place in the world - that is doing the great things the citizens of Eldridge and the North Scott High School are doing in terms of educating their children and adults on America's original art form: jazz music.
East Moline-born and -bred Bill Bell - known as "The Jazz Professor" for his three decades of educational efforts in the San Francisco area - conducted a workshop at North Scott High School during a Mississippi Valley Blues Society residency several years ago, and stated that he had never seen a music department with comparable equipment and supplies at any educational institution he had been involved with. He asked: "Where and how do they get all that money?"
For more than 20 years, North Scott has been bringing the University of Northern Illinois (UNI) Jazz Ensemble along with an internationally known jazz star to the school for workshops and concerts. Both the UNI band and its director, Ronald Carter, have won countless awards and honors for jazz education over the years.
Among the jazz giants UNI has brought to North Scott are James Moody, Louis Bellson, Slide Hampton, Randy Brecker, and Hamiet Bluiett. In addition to UNI, for the past several years North Scott has brought in top jazz musicians and educators on the second Monday of May to conduct workshops and perform concerts with North Scott's Jazz Ensemble I. Among these jazz giants are Melton Mustafa, Wycliffe Gordon, Rodney Whitaker, and Victor Goines. Brian Stripling is scheduled for May 14, 2007.
Late on the morning of Friday, November 3, Ronald Carter, the UNI Jazz Ensemble, and the well-known alto saxophonist and educator Antonio Hart arrived at North Scott after a long ride from Dekalb, Illinois, on the band bus. The 38-year-old Hart has been traveling the jazz road since graduating from the Berklee School of Music, after receiving his master's in performance and composition at Queens College. Antonio has been on the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music.
Two one-hour workshops were held that afternoon in the school auditorium. First Carter critiqued the performance of the North Scott Jazz Ensemble I. Next, before the entire North Scott music department, Hart spent most of his workshop talking about his career and the life of a jazz musician, including food, hotels, the people he met, and his travels to such places as Japan, Europe, and the Middle East. Antonio emphasized the importance of a musician being on-time, reliable, sober, and properly dressed. Antonio also spent time answering questions from the students.
The concert began at 6:30 p.m. with the North Scott Jazz Ensemble II performing a half-hour set before an almost-full auditorium. This was immediately followed by Jazz Ensemble I under the direction of Mike McMahn. Among the tunes performed were Charles Mingus's "Haitian Fight Song" featuring outstanding bass player Chris Henningsen (who played linebacker on North Scott's fine football team); Duke Ellington's "I'm Just a Lucky So & So" featuring 15-year-old sophomore vocalist Hailee Gehris; and Bob Washut's Latin-American jazz composition and arrangement "La Llama Azul."
After intermission, the UNI Jazz Ensemble took the stage, and Ronald Carter wasted no time in displaying his highly talented musicians performing fine jazz solos on all instruments. The first number was Ellington's "Jumpin' Pumpkins" featuring 19-year-old sophomore trumpeter Marquis Hill (who was scheduled to lead his own quartet at Chicago's legendary jazz club Andy's on November 6). Vocalist Molly Pufall displayed an original style of scatting on Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing."
Carter next brought out Hart, carrying his alto saxophone. Antonio was featured on his own compositions and arrangements, plus one by his mentor, legendary saxophonist and composer Jimmy Heath, and a ballad, "Stars Fell on Alabama." During his solos, Antonio used what he learned from listening to legends Cannonball Adderley and fellow Baltimore native Gary Bartz to develop his own style. He showed the North Scott audience why he is one of today's top jazz alto saxophonists.
Getting back to Bill Bell's question - "Where and how do they get all that money?" - the answer in part is the North Scott Music Boosters and music patrons. The concert brochure listed six categories of music patrons (based on dollar amount of donations) and 55 music patrons, including 14 Eldridge businesses. Anyone interested in becoming a patron and helping bring great jazz to the Quad Cities should contact North Scott Music Boosters Chairperson Denise Arp-James at (563) 285-5705.