Bringing Jazz Straight to the Kids – My Dizzy Gillespie Moment

by Jason on January 22, 2010 · 9 comments

in Gigs, Teaching, Thoughts

Outside the School - Photo by Darrah Parker

Outside the School - Photo by Darrah Parker

I had a truly remarkable “full-circle” moment last Friday that I’ve been wanting to share with you. You can read some of the backstory here.

Tomorrow's Jazz Musicians - Photo by Rob Michael

Tomorrow's Jazz Musicians - Photo by Rob Michael

The short version is that 35 years ago I had a life-changing experience when Dizzy Gillespie and his band descended on my elementary school and played a short show for us in the multi-purpose room. It was that moment that made me want to play the trumpet and learn how to play jazz. For years I have been searching for a photo or article about that day, which I have not found yet. However, my search has led me to talk to many people along the way, one of whom is the Community Engagement Manager at Stanford Lively Arts, the organization that I believe made that day happen. She was so thrilled with my story that she invited me to come play in the very same multi-purpose room last Friday.

Me and Rob - Photo by Darrah Parker

Me and Rob - Photo by Darrah Parker

My wife and I made the trek down to Palo Alto and I played in front of hundreds of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Addison Elementary School with my new friend Rob Michael. I met Rob through Twitter and we became friends exchanging thoughts on the music business and being a working musician. We met in person for the first time about 10 minutes before we played, and immediately I knew I was going to love playing with him. I had heard his music (go get some for yourself here) and knew he was a great player, but he’s also one of the nicest, warmest people I’ve met in a long time. His easy smile and laugh tipped me off to a kindred spirit.

After a short introduction where the Dizzy story was told to the kids Rob and I played a few tunes and took questions from the audience. For a group of pre-teens they had some amazingly astute questions about the music, the process, making a living and more. If this crowd was indicative of the future, we’re in good hands! One of my favorite comments was from a girl responding to another student who said that the blues is sad music. She said, “Not the one in Monsters Inc!”. And my favorite question was to Rob, when one boy asked “Why do you nod your head when you play?” These kids were paying attention!

Here’s two of the tunes we played, captured by Rob on his MacBook:

Bashert by Jason Parker & Rob Michael

Blues by Jason Parker & Rob Michael

I can’t tell you what an amazing experience it was for me to be on that stage playing for the students in the exact same manner that Dizzy did 35 years ago. We don’t often get chances to give back like this in life and I was grateful for the opportunity and humbled by the experience. If we provided even a fraction of the inspiration Diz gave to me that day when I was in the crowd it will stand as one of my proudest moments.

Dusty Boxes of Microfilm - Photo by Darrah Parker

Dusty Boxes of Microfilm - Photo by Darrah Parker

After the performance Darrah and I headed to the Palo Alto Library to search for evidence of Dizzy’s performance. We looked through many months of microfilm of the now-defunct Palo Alto Times for a photo, article, any mention of that day, to no avail. But I have to say it was a kick to see the headlines and photos from 1974! Lots of news about Nixon, Veitnam, womens’ lib, Patty Hearst and the SLA, etc. And the ads were a riot! Lots of sideburns, plaid and transistor radios!

Even though we didn’t find any evidence of that day I have not given up the search. I am narrowing in on the date that it happened and I will be back at the library next time I’m in Palo Alto to search more film. This whole experience is going to make a great book someday!

Many, many thanks to Rob for playing the gig with me. It was so nice to meet you and an honor to share the stage. I look forward to many more opportunities to play together. Incidentally, you can read Rob’s thoughts on our gig here.

And thanks to all at Stanford Lively Arts and Addison for allowing me to have such a wonderful full-circle experience. I’ll never forget it!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Michael January 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Jason, it was great meeting you and Darrah. Great playing. Looking forward to hanging again when your tour swings through this spring.

Mike Conaty
Twitter: mikeconaty
January 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

What a fantastic story!

Jazz + education + Twitter = Awesomeness!

Love It!

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
January 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Mike! This really was a WIN situation. I’m so thankful for all the goodness that Twitter has brought into my life. (never thought I’d say THAT!)…

Bruce January 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

From one Palo Alto native (and Seattle resident) to another – thanks for making the trip and sharing your music. Great story. Thanks to Rob, as well.


bbebop January 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Amazingly cool!

Twitter: playjazzblog
January 23, 2010 at 5:03 am

I just love the whole idea of this story Jason. It must be a great feeling to be able to stand and play on the very spot where Diz inspired you to start your own musical journey.

Additionally, this post is one of the few compelling arguments I’ve ever heard for why you should be on twitter. I have to admit, I’ve been stubbornly resisting signing up for twitter for ages because I just haven’t seen the point; perhaps I should have a rethink…

It was also great to read about how involved the kids were with what you were doing. At that age, they seem to be so open to anything that it’s tragic to see close-minded some of them can become just a few years later when they’re teenagers and peer pressure kicks in properly.

It just goes to show that if you take all the prejudice and sociological pigeon-holing away just LISTEN, good music of any genre will press the right buttons every time. Apparently jazz is supposed to be ‘complex’ or ‘difficult’ and yet when they don’t ‘know’ that in advance, even young kids can appreciate it.

Actually, writing this comment has just taught me a new life lesson – to strive to listen to any new music like an elementary school kid!

jeff helgesen January 23, 2010 at 10:02 am

“Patty Hearst”…

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
January 23, 2010 at 11:38 am

Thanks for catching that, Jeff! Actually, Patty Hearse would make a good band name…

Barry, thanks for your thoughts! I love your idea of listening to all music as a kid would, with open ears and no preconceptions.

As for Twitter, I can tell you that I’ve made so many amazing connections since joining. I never thought I’d be in the “Twitter camp”, but that’s where I find myself.

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