Saxophonist Tia Fuller

*New Orleans – I couldn’t contain my excitement when the opportunity presented itself for me to take another trip to New Orleans. My enthusiasm was apparent throughout my time in the Crescent City.

In fact, I have visited New Orleans more than any other city in the past two decades. More times than I visited my home town of Tampa, Florida. If you have visited New Orleans, you know what I mean. If not, 2011 is still early for you to planned on visiting New Orleans this year.

The 2nd Annual Jazz Educators Network (JEN) Conference was the reason for my excitement. This event was held on January 5-8, 201 at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

I was fortunate enough to stay at the Dauphine New Orleans Hotel in the heart of the French Quarter during my recent visit. I enjoyed my stay due to the devoted, dedicated and professional that I encountered. From the evening clerk who welcomed me upon checking in, to the housekeeper who serviced my room and most important, the courteous staff who prepared and replenished breakfast each morning in the Coffee Lounge. My room was very spacious. There was a patio that was pleasant and inviting. I’m sure that many visitors take advantage of the patio on warmer days. I definitely hope to return Dauphine New Orleans on a future visit to the city. I hope that you will consider staying here on your planned visit for either business or pleasure.

Everyone congratulated members of JEN all weekend for filling in the void of this much needed jazz conference. The theme for the conference was “Honoring Performance in the Birthplace of Jazz.” I thought that a subheading could have been “Teach, Play and Collaborate,” or Teach, Play and Network” which was evidence throughout the conference.

The conference featured three fun-filled days of clinics, panel discussions, meetings and concerts. My enjoyment of the conference began with the Open Board Meeting. Members of the Board outlined the goals and objectives of JEN. The treasurer gave a detail report. They also spoke about various scholarships and awards that were to be presented at the conference. The also invited the audience to join them for the 3rd Annual Jazz Educators Network (JEN) Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

Matt Marantz kicked off the musical portion of the conference. Saxophonist Matt Marantz led a great quartet of Sam Harris-piano, Steve Cardenas-guitar, Martin Nevin-bass and Simon Lott on drums through a set of original material.

The conference offered so much for the jazz lovers to do and hear some outstanding artists. It was truly hard to break away from one performance to go see another performance in another venue during the same time frame. Case in point, the highlight of the conference was the set by Doreen’s Jazz New Orleans. Doreen played clarinet, joined by her husband on tuba and a pianist and drummer whose name slip my mind. Doreen delighted the crowd with her playing as well as her singing. She opened her set with a spiritual “Lord, Lord, Lord” and continued wailing on the clarinet and singing on “St. Louis Blues,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I had to break away to catch the last song “Street Music” as performed by the Louisiana Music Educators Association All State Jazz Band, directed by Rick Condit, with special guest Peter Erskine and Jacob Dupree.

The clinicians share their passion for jazz, its rich history and some techniques to an attentive audience. Saxophonist Mel Martin led the clinic about “The Art of tone: Finding and developing your own unique sound.” Additional informative clinics were held back to back. “The Art of Solo Guitar: A unique niche in a rich musical traditional led by Sean McGowan and “Guitar Pre-arranged: Channeling your inner Big Band” led by Frank Potenza. These and other clinics allowed the musicians to practice along with the clinicians.

The Exhibitors Welcome Reception opened so that everyone can talk to the representatives from various colleges, universities and military organizations with a musical program, pick up information about jazz camps, and talk with representative from music instruments companies and play the instruments that were on display.

The reception party, if you will, got off to a good start with an always crowd pleasing set by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I’m sure that the young jazz musicians got some exciting ideas about various opportunities available to them as they witnessed this high energy performance of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The evening continued with a performance by the Monk Institute Jazz Ensemble of New Orleans and a swinging set by the Junior Mance Quintet, and closed with a set by The John Mahoney Big Band featuring clarinetist Evan Christopher.

My day began on Friday morning checking out the clinic “Latin Percussion Not Just for Latin Rhythms: An alternative approach to performing on Latin percussions led by Marcie Chapa a member of Beyonce’s all female band. Also sitting in on the clinic were saxophonist Tia Fuller another member of Beyonce’s group.

Staying in a Latin groove. I attended the clinic led by Benjamin Lapidus entitled “Latin Jazz 101 and beyond for the Jazz Guitarist. Mr Lapidus gave an overview of the tres and guitar in various forms of Latin music from the 1800’s to present day.

Club owners and festival producers etc. got a lot out of the clinic “New Knowledge for Engaging Jazz Audience-Part 2”. I feel that it is worth sharing their website so that others can benefit from the ground breaking research presented at this clinic. The group is the Jazz Audience Initiative. For more information visit www.jazzartsgroup.org/jai. This informative clinic was led by Christy Farnbauch.

Jose Diaz director led a energetic group called Caliente in a set of Afro-Caribbean music. The group featured several outstanding young musicians including vocalist Virginia Stille.

I took a break from the conference to join friends Adrian, Judy and Angela for another marvelous evening of music. The four of us went to the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Friday, January 7 for “An Evening with Randy Newman and The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, William Grimes, Conductor. This concert was presented by The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and Arts Center Enterprises. Enough superlatives have been said about the talented Randy Newman that would fill up the rest of this article. I’m sure that you can imagine  what a magic evening this was for all in attendance.

The final day of the conference continued on a high musical note as well.The day began for me listening to a big band from my home town of Tampa, Florida. Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge played compositions by the late great Michael Brecker with special guest Randy Brecker and Dave Liebman.

Bassist Larry Ridley’s Jazz Legacy Ensemble featured HBCU Alumni members who graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The band consisted of Courtland Saxon-saxophones, Russell Gunn-trumpet, jazz veteran Richard Wyands on piano and Ndugu Chancler on drums. The band was swinging hard on some modern jazz numbers “All Blues” by Miles Davis. “Ceora” by Lee Morgan and “The Blues Walk” by Clifford Brown.

Congressman John Conyers was the keynote speaker. He spoke eloquently about the history of jazz and it’s importance to America’s culture. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreau followed with a speech (sermon) about New Orleans and Louisiana’s cultural influence and the importance of the arts in education.

Jose Diaz led members of Caliente and special guest Marcie Chapa and Ndugu Chancler in a simmering clinic entitled “Mambo Jumbo and All That Jazz. This group of talented young musicians is hot like a simmering pot of coffee from Cafe Dumond.The clinic featured demonstrations of the 2-3 rumba clave,3-2 son clave in the music of cha cha, mambo and salsa.The band demonstrated these concepts on the tunes “Frenzy,” “Oye Como Va,” “Cafe Cubano,” and “La Vida es un Carnival” made famous by the late great Celia Cruz.

The conference concluded for me with another rousing set of salsa and Latin jazz that was burning hot on all cylindars late into the early morning. This was a performance by Ruben Alvarez’ Latin Jazz Pro Jam. This was the best way to cap off the 2nd Annual Jazz Educators Network (JEN) Conference.

Hoping that you will consider joining this wonderful organization and/or plan on attending the 3rd Annual Jazz Educators Network (JEN) Conference, January 4-7,2012 in Louisville, Kentucky with the forward thinking theme of “Developing Tomorrow’s Jazz Audience Today! For more information visit www.jazzednet.org

You still have eleven and a half months in 2011 to plan a visit to the Crescent City of N’Awlins. There are many conferences scheduled covering a wide variety of industries. If you want to visit for pleasure, I will tease you with a couple of reasons to visit: Mardi Gras, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, French Quarter Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Satchmo SummerFest, and the Voodoo Music Experience. Please visit www.neworleanscvb.com to request a 2011 New Orleans Visitors Guide. You can also see a list of other events scheduled/planned to coincide with your visit. You will find out for yourself why “Travel + Leisure (T+L) recently announced that New Orleans was voted the number one urban destination in the country for New Year’s Eve, Neighborhood Joints and Cafe’s, People Watching, Singles/Bar Scene, Cocktail Hour and overall category of Nightlife in the 2010 America’s Favorite Cities Survey.” “Convention customers and leisure travelers continue to recognize New Orleans as a top meeting and travel destination. Bing Travel voted New Orleans as one of the 15 coolest North American cities.”

Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer, music reviewer and photographer. Contact him via: liltampared@netzero.net.