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Marshall is music: Education is the heart of the Bob James Jazz Festival

Posted Monday, April 11, 2011, at 7:02 AM

The Bob James Jazz Festival was conceived as a concert but built around a clinic. Here's why:

The event is intended to do more than honor Marshall native Bob James' accomplishments as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the past half century and provide the community with some fine music. It's also intended to celebrate Marshall's tradition of nurturing musical talent. Bob James is the most famous of the young people from Marshall who left our shores to carry on the mission of teaching and performing music, but he's far from the only one.

If you review the guest soloists at Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra concerts over the past few years, you'll see "from Marshall" or "of Marshall" attached to many of the names.

The schools are the heart of music education, of course. The list of wonderful music teachers is much longer than my limited experience can adequately describe, but now and in the recent our students have benefited from the care and instruction of Kevin and Cheryl Lines, Ron Sayer, Mary Marshall, Ruth Hartung, Deb Foreman, Kate Koffman in elementary and secondary schools, and Garry Anders, Diana Malan and Charles Ferguson at Missouri Valley College — to name just those who come immediately to mind.

Just judging by the consistent high marks our choirs and bands receive, these folks are doing a tremendous job.

Students also benefit from private teachers. Kitty Nelson, Virginia Schilb, Martha Jasper. And MVC student Joe Graham has been teaching guitar in recent months.

And they all are carrying on a tradition of music education that may have started with Harold L. Lickey but was carried forward by people like Marie Boedeker, Charles Ferguson and many others. I know I'm leaving important people out. I trust readers will fill in the blanks.

The point is, if you want to become a musician, Marshall is a great place to get your start. See Bob James, for example.

But it never pays to rest upon laurels (they make treacherous couches). The mission of Marshall Cultural Council, co-sponsor of the jazz fest with Missouri Valley College, is to help the community build upon its success and tradition.

When I told Bob James about our plans early on, the clinic was the part that made his eyes light up (I could hear them light up over the phone).

"I think that's wonderful!" he said. "I see so much going around the country — music programs reduced or cut out altogether. Some schools don't even have a band or orchestra."

We've been lucky in Marshall. Our school music programs remain strong and are not currently on the table in budget-cutting discussions. But music programs, like the arts generally, are beset. Even Marshall's has taken some dings. As I understand it, jazz band faded away in recent years when the district was no long able to offer it as a class (probably we have No Child Left Behind to thank for that!).

"Knowing the tradition Harold Lickey started with the band and orchestra at Marshall High School, and having lived through that when I grew up, I can personally attest to the importance of it as an overall part of education," James said.

He noted that the way the arts remain a thriving part of a community is to have events that regularly draw attention to them. Our school and community music group concerts do that (there are about 10 concerts — school, college and community — scheduled between now and the end of May).

The clinic and concert we have planned would be a good way to help keep attention on music and to draw some attention to jazz and jazz education.

"I definitely wish you the best," he said. "One way or another I'm a supporter."

Because music education never ends, the clinic is open to students and adults. To find out more about the jazz fest, to register for the clinic, or to buy tickets, visit www.bobjamesjazzfest.org.

Note: Bob James is not likely to be able to attend this year's festival. His band, Fourplay, released a new album, "Let's Reach for the Sky," in October and have been touring heavily since. He has been very supportive of the effort and we're hoping to do a video interview with him so he can be "present" on screen if not in person.

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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