Getting Rhythm at Montclair Art Museum/WBGO’s Kids Concert
They were dancing in the aisles as Helen Sung Trio played & Maurice Chestnut tapped.
Swing, Afro Cuban, waltz time, bossa nova, shuffle—jazz explores many rhythms and a packed Leir Hall got to both hear and see rhythm in action this past Saturday afternoon at the Montclair Art Museum (MAM). It was all part of the eighth free jazz concert series that Newark-based WBGO Jazz radio 88.3 FM has brought into MAM.
WBGO is the nation’s number one jazz station and they reallly know how to put on a show. This time out, pianist Helen Sung brought in a lively trio performing well known jazz standards including Edgar Sampson’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii MaMa,” Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” and—of course—George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” There was also one Sung original, “H Town,” composed in tribute to her and WBGO’s Special Events and Program Coordinator Dorthaan Kirk’s home town—Houston.
The personable Sung, who has headlined at the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, engaged the kids in short discussions of rhythm, demonstrated by her trio’s Boris Koslov on bass and Donald Edwards on drums.
“Rhythm is so universal,” Sung said, “We all have rhythm in our bodies.”
The MAM/WBGO Kids Jazz concert audiences skew young—largely elementary school children and the toddling set, along with their parents or grandparents. (Anyone can come, provided they bring a kid.) There were a smattering of older kids; saxophonist and music teacher Gerry Cappuccio: “I bring a student or two here each year,” Cappuccio said. “You can hear music on a CD or the radio, but if you hear it live, you remember it for the rest of your life.”
The youngsters in my row were up and dancing in the aisle even before Sung called tap dancer Maurice Chestnut to the stage. There is a long tradition of tap dancers performing with jazz groups: The sound of their steel taps hitting the dance floor becomes another layer of percussion.
Chestnut not only performed but also gave instruction for four basic tap steps. He didn’t have to encourage students to come dance along; a chorus line of would be dancers immediately approached the stage and tapped along. What they lacked in precision they made up for with their exuberance.
Exuberance was the word for the afternoon. Kirk, who has been with WBGO since its founding, talked about the background to the Free Kids Jazz Concert Series: “The idea started right here in Montclair in the early 1990s. Emily Winger, the original owner of Trumpets Jazz Club, wanted to introduce kids to jazz but to start in Newark, rather than at her club,” Kirk said. “The first concerts were WBGO studio on Park Place, but the audiences got too big and we moved to the Newark Museum.”
Fast forward to the 2000s and the program became both a Newark and suburban based series: “We wanted to reach more kids and listeners in the area,” Kirk said. The 2011 series continues with Tia Fuller at the Newark Museum on April 30 and Jon Faddis at NJPAC on May 7. All performances start at 12:30 p.m. and run about an hour.
Also participating in the event were WBGO on air host Eulis Cathey, who introduced Sung and gave out the raffle prizes, and two Montclair residents: Thurston Briscoe, the WBGO program director, and freelance art director, photographer and illustrator Chris Drukker. Drukker who does design and production for Montclair’s Jazz House Kids volunteers extensively for the jazz community; he helped with administration for this event and contributed the photographs shown here.
This is the fourth year that MAM Manager of Public Events Martha Kelshaw has worked with WBGO on the Montclair edition of the Kids Jazz Concert Series. Kelshaw started the afternoon by welcoming the crowd and acknowledging the event sponsors.“It’s always an exciting event, Kelshaw said, “Hundreds take part each year.”
Post concert, Sung talked about jazz and playing for kids: “Jazz is our country’s artistic contribution to the world,” Sung said. “I love introducing jazz to young people.