A! Magazine for the Arts

Music and education combine for one "cool" concert

October 27, 2015

Dr. Joseph Trivette of Southwest Virginia Community College is excited about sharing his love and knowledge of jazz with the region. In addition to performing across the region and leading the college's Jazz Combo and Ensemble and the Jazz Vocal Ensemble, he started the Jazz: America's Music program.

"It began 15 years ago," he says. "When I got here, I would hate to say that there was no jazz; but there was almost no jazz in the area. So I started writing grants and started the program which is funded by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts."

As part of the program, Trivette brings in five professional jazz musicians to join him in spreading the word about jazz. This year they are Rich Willey (trumpet) Rick Simerly (trombone), Matt Vance (saxophone), Dave Morgan (drummer) and Matt Kendrick (bassist). Trivette plays piano with the group.

"We jump in vans and do concerts for middle and high school students, a jazz luncheon at the community college and two bigger concerts." Last year, was the first time the group performed in Abingdon. "It was packed, and Mary Munsey wanted us to come back, so we're doing it again this year."

Over three days, they will play for 2,000 school kids. After the school concerts, they provide mini-clinics for the students. The program also includes a larger school clinic. "Last year, it was at a middle school. After the clinic the students played, and the guys soloed with them. They loved it," Trivette says. In a typical day, they do two or three school concerts and work with the college students after that.

Trivette calls them "runout" concerts, because they run out, get in the car and go. "On a typical day, we drive as far as an hour and a half for one concert."

"The group understands the missionary aspect of what we're doing," Trivette says. "The first year, we asked the kids at Tazewell High School to raise their hands if this was the first time they'd heard live jazz. About 90 percent of them raised their hands. We usually start the concert with something they've heard, like "Sweet Georgia Brown' to get them interested, and then we start the education part. It's a little bit of history and some great music. I teach them about improvisation. The most important thing is that they get to hear jazz and learn that it is American music and get to hear guys who have dedicated so much of their lives to master their expertise."

The concert is a chronological journey through the history of jazz. They explain that "jazz is a convergence of African and European music and that only in the great melting pot of America could you take those two divergent musics and come up with something as cool as jazz," Trivette says.

They begin the concert with Dixieland, move to New York Swing, bebop, fusion, cool jazz and other genres. They discuss the influence of African American and Latin American music and close with a tune like "Caravan" or "Night in Tunisia" to illustrate.

"Getting to play with these guys is really one of the highlights of my year. They are all the head of their own groups. Anytime they perform, you could charge good ticket prices, but putting them all together on one stage is a unique opportunity," Trivette says.

If you'd like to take the voyage through the history of jazz with them, they perform at the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church in Abingdon, Nov. 15 at 3 p.m. As a part of the Spencer-Miller Memorial Concert Series, tickets are free for students, $10 for general admission.