Southern Illinois Music Festival 2011: New Arts Jazztet: Hands-on American Music for Adults and Children

Southern Illinois Music Festival 2011: New Arts Jazztet: Hands-on American Music for Adults and Chi
Jeff Hale

While the Southern Illinois Music Festival program is heavy on what most general listeners would consider classical music, jazz-- music that pianist Mel Goot calls "uniquely American"-- will also take a significant portion of the festival's schedule. Goot, along with his bandmates in the New Arts Jazztet, will play Wednesday, June 15 at StarView Vineyards and Wednesday, June 22 at Rustle Hill Winery. The Jazztet will also perform Jive for Jazz children's programs in Du Quoin, Carbondale, Sesser, Cairo, and Herrin.

The New Arts Jazztet, founded by trumpeter and SIU School of Music professor of trumpet and jazz studies Robert Allison, has long been regarded as Southern Illinois's foremost carrier of the jazz torch. According to Goot, the mission and focus of the New Arts Jazztet (consisting of Allison, Goot, Dick Kelley, Tim Pitchford, Phil Brown, and Ron Coulter) is to take jazz to audiences hungry for the sound of a music born and bred right here in our nation.

"The thing about jazz is, that most people don't realize, that it's uniquely American," Goot tells Nightlife. "It was born right here in America, because it's a melding of African rhythms and call-and-response of the indigenous peoples of Africa, put together with some European harmonies and other concepts. It's uniquely American, so we're always excited to take this out to the people. Jazz encompasses everything from down-home tradition right down to the latest space-age funks mixed with Latino. One of the common denominators is the improvisational quality-- things being created right there before your eyes. That's what makes jazz jazz."

While jazz may meld musical elements from many different nations, the development of jazz as an art form in this nation's melting pot is something that Goot is proud to claim as an American experience, and it's an experience that he's eager to share with music fans of every age. In addition to the free Southern Illinois Music Festival winery concerts the New Arts Jazztet will play, the group will also take jazz to audiences a bit too young for wine.

The Jive for Jazz programs, all free and held throughout Southern Illinois during the course of the festival, are designed to inspire children and parents of all ages to discover and become excited about the impact that music, particularly jazz, can have on every aspect of their lives, from academic pursuits to personal development. These concerts will also feature Mel Goot's sons Solomon and Jonah, who will join their father in an effort to teach other students about the power of music.

While the Jive for Jazz concerts are, on the surface, a way to get children excited about music, Goot admits to Nightlife that the real purpose of the Jive for Jazz series is for him more personal and heartfelt.

"We're on a mission," Goot says. "To me, this is a mission. In my opinion, in this day and age of computers and technology and iPods, if we don't add to our [musical] ranks and our audiences in the next decade or two, you might have to go to the Smithsonian to hear live, creative music."

The Jive for Jazz concerts will also give children a chance to try their hand at good, old-fashioned American jazz, as audience members can help keep rhythms by clapping and even joining in on some basic instrumentation. Goot says that the level of participation inspires, excites, and even surprises students and parents.

"Audiences like it when they see that there are young people involved in doing this," Goot says. "We have them doing things such as clapping out rhythms. We even have them playing instruments at some point. The cool thing is that people realize that music is science, social studies, and even math, all rolled into one. It's something that can enhance everything else their children do academically. I think people are surprised at the level of artistry."

Goot feels that such community participation is lacking in an age when children often go into their rooms and play on computers rather than gather with a family and take part in a family activity such as music. The Murphysboro high-school Spanish teacher adds that few people realize how great an impact that music can make on a child's education; thus, the many modern-day cuts to school-sponsored music and performance programs.

"At the turn of the last century, almost every household had a piano. Almost everyone learned how to read music in school," Goot says. "We taught it in schools like a language. It is a language, you know? It's a language that has just eight letters. Most people don't realize that when you teach a kid music, you're teaching them to read, you're teaching them to count, you're teaching them history, you're teaching them social studies. Music encompasses everything. That's why I'm so excited about this festival. We like to get these kids fired up. That's why it's nice to have young people like Solomon, who plays upright and electric bass, and Jonah, who plays guitar and violin. This will be the third or fourth year I've had my sons in the show, and that's great, because when kids see their peers doing this, it's different than if they see an adult doing it. If they see an adult doing it, a lot of times they think, 'Well, that's nice, but I could never do that.'"

Goot credits the Southern Illinois Music Festival for making these Jive for Jazz performances possible, but says that the entire festival is more than just about people coming out and hearing good music.

"I'm excited about the whole festival because we're taking the music out to the people, instead of having it in some hoity-toity music hall," Goot says. "Think of us like the Dr. Billy Taylor's Jazz Mobile. Doctor Taylor passed away a few months ago, but he was one of the first people to take jazz out to the schools. One of the things I like to do is make sure that I have performers with me who are young people as well. That's why we're doing this."

During the performances, students will be invited to try their hands at playing instruments. Goot hopes that once they try music, they will be bitten by the bug. And if they are?

"It's simple," Goot says. "If you like music, talk to your parents and talk to your teachers. See what you can do about learning how to play an instrument."

For the complete festival schedule, log on to <http://SIFest.com> or call the SIU School of Music at (618) 53-MUSIC. Tickets for events that require admission sell via the Marion Cultural and Civic Center box office at (618) 997-4030 or visit <http://www.MarionCCC.org>.

who: New Arts Jazztet

what: jazz

where: StarView Vineyards; Rustle Hill Winery

when: Wednesday, June 15; Wednesday, June 22