Mentoring high school musicians
One of the more interesting aspects to Herbie Hancock’s career during the Mwandishi period was his visits to Alain LeRoy Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles. I know of two visits, one while Ndugu Leon Chancler was in high school and the other when Patrice Rushen was there. In both cases, the visits were occasioned by an insightful teacher, Reggie Andrews, who directed the school’s jazz workshop during a time when nationally, jazz studies were largely undeveloped.
When Herbie Hancock visited the high school in 1969, Chancler was a student and a budding drummer. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, Chancler was invited, along with a student bassist, to join Hancock in playing ‘Maiden Voyage’ for their fellow students. The students were already familiar with Hancock’s original Sextet’s music from attending shows at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach and Shelley’s Manne Hole in Los Angeles. Chancler had been particular struck by the playing of Joe Henderson. When the band was in the process of reforming, Chancler had the opportunity to join the band for a show at the Lighthouse and subsequently serve as a second drummer on the recording of the tune ‘Ostinato’ during the ‘Mwandishi’ sessions.
Two years later, all the members of the 1971 Mwandishi band visited Alain LeRoy Locke High School (right after the recording of the album Mwandishi) to listen to the student performances and meet the students. Rushen describes “our first hand encounter with these musicians away from the stage and there to visit us, interact and observe” as “profound”. In turn, the students then attended a show by the band at The Lighthouse. This time, the tables were turned and the students listened and soaked it all in. Clearly, the experience of hearing the band perform, having met the musicians, was also deeply important.
We now face a time of limited funding for the Arts in the schools. Where jazz is studied and heard, there is often a rather conservative view of the music. Student exposure to jazz in general may have grown over the years, although it is under threat due to funding cuts, but much of what they experience and play is older repertory. There is little contact with more cutting edge forms of expression. The foresight of Reggie Andrews and colleagues like him stands as continued inspiration for what is possible. All that it took was exposing students to more advanced music and then inviting forward thinking musicians, often happy to oblige, to visit. My own experience in college with the forward thinking teacher Donald J. Funes supports the same contention. A visionary teacher can have the power to inspire students to step beyond what they know and fellow musicians are often happy to come and share what they have to offer.