Early in 1953, someone accidentally fell on Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet and bent the bell back. Gillespie played it anyway, discovered he liked the sound, and from then on, he had instruments custom-built for him with the bell pointing upward. The design (along with his puffed cheeks) became a visual trademark, and for more than 30 years, he was virtually the only major trumpeter in jazz who played such a horn.
Easily distracted kiddies at the local grade school would love to hear another story in musical history (like the one above), if it were only told by Beyoncé. Over a Lil Wayne track. In HD. C’mon, jazz appreciation in school? Ha! Let the nightly news tell it: Teenagers today don’t care about anything that doesn’t revolve around iPods or Jay-Z. Thankfully, that’s not how Carl Anthony, WCLK DJ and proud participant in the Atlanta station’s Jazz in the Classroom program, sees it.
“The kids are very interested in it,” says Anthony, who’s marveled at Monk and Marsalis tunes in metro middle schools since the program’s inception five years ago. “I explain my vision in terms of being a DJ and how I play the music and get an understanding of the music. They’re music students. They need to understand how much work it takes to become the musician they want to be. By the time I get finished telling them from a DJ standpoint and the musicians get up there and tell them from a musician’s standpoint and how easy they make it look, [the kids are in awe]. It’s really a lot of fun. They love it when we come in there.”
Anthony isn’t the only enthusiast who insists teens are tuning in to WCLK’s impromptu history lessons and jazz sessions. “My approach is always a shocking one,” says Rod Kelley, an Atlanta pianist who participated in Jazz in the Classroom last year.
“I start out talking about slaves and chitlins and pig feet and soul food and the scraps from master’s table and how my race of people took what they had available to them and made it something good. And then I relate it back to how the Charlie Parkers and Dizzy Gillespies took what they had, the music of their times, and developed it to where it became their own. They improvised and made it something great. These kids who listen to the Lil Waynes and so forth say, ‘Wow. Lil Wayne got his own, but I can take that which I’m familiar with and take it some place else and make it my own.’”
It’s unique approaches like that—more hands-on workshops; less nodding-off lecturing—that should keep the teens involved when the program retools later this school year. “This has been an ongoing project with WCLK,” says Anthony. “Without art, children lose a very important part of themselves, in terms of their development. Music is a universal language that everybody in the world loves in some shape, form or fashion—not just jazz but rock, gospel and world music. It doesn’t matter. Music makes their lives better.”
For more information on “Jazz in the Classroom” and other Jazz 91.9 education and community projects, contact WCLK at (404) 880-8277. For station information and programming details please visit WCLK.com.