Commentary: Grayson Street Jazz Unites Music Education and Community in Eastside

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The blackboard reads “Jazztastic” and the cherubic faces shine forth with eager attention. A vinyl take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” from Live at Cook County Jail ends its rotation. Agusto sits in the front row, like always, and shouts out the word “snazzy,” while my other curly-cue friend cries out “bluesy” and the silly one says “monkey-suit man."  Their eager responses followed the question: “What words come to mind after listening to this song?” 

Though some audience members may have acted like their nine or 10-year-old selves, their knowledge of the blues belied their age, proving them to be old souls. When asked to name three blues musicians correctly for the chance to turn on the record player, a rosy-cheeked blonde boy uttered, "Eric Clapton, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters.”

Five months had passed since I first visited their classrooms, but the energy was just as bubbling, their minds absorbing the lessons that we had learned in promoting the first kids-oriented performance of Grayson Street Jazz.

Grayson Street Jazz, hosted at the remarkably majestic Lambermont Estates, is the brain-child of parishioners of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located on East Grayson Street. The mission of the initiative, currently acting as a fundraiser for the St. Paul’s Montessori School and general church community, is to create unity through music that uplifts and supports the students and parishioners of St. Paul’s, while fostering a sense of togetherness with the Eastside community.

Grayson Street Jazz will host their next concert at 950 E. Grayson St. on Thursday, March 10, 5:30-8:30 p.m.  Tickets for Grayson Street Jazz can be purchased here, or you can pay at the door.

The initiative began in the fall of 2014, bringing together leaders from the school, its board of directors, and the church community. I had the privilege of joining in as the musical coordinator thanks to the love of my dear grandparents, parishioners of the church. We started from scratch, building a website, printing t-shirts, and getting a band together for the first installment, with concerts every season featuring the music of my band, Soulzzafying.

Soulzzafying (left to right): Odie Wallace, Adam Tutor, Rick Spring, John Fernandez. Photo Courtesy of Lana Reed

Soulzzafying (left to right): Odie Wallace, Adam Tutor, Rick Spring, John Fernandez. Photo Courtesy of Lana Reed

As the concerts grew and it remained clear that the initiative was a positive and progressive step for the community, we began to focus on getting the students we were supporting more involved with the actual music.

When the beneficiary organization finds support directly from the community – in this case the children who received scholarships to the school thanks to the initiative – a project is far more likely to have legs and carry forth into new landscapes or altitudes.

A new feeling that I had discovered months before at the Ella Austin Community Center while reading "Jazz on a Saturday Night" to a group of third and fourth graders from Bowden Elementary. I, along with some students from St. Paul's, recreated the experience of a live jam session with heroes of the jazz pantheon – Miles, Monk, Coltrane, Bird, Mingus, Roach, Ella – the "Dream Team" of this art form. As they listened, they processed the music by playing along with the trumpet, skit-scatting along with the vocals, banging on their desk when Max laid it down. That's when I saw the beauty of my work with Grayson Street Jazz unfold.

This past fall was the debut performance of the St. Paul’s Hep Cats, a rag-tag crew of wild-eyed blues chantin’ souls who had never before performed with a jazz band, but man, you would have never known it. My sweet nine and 10 year-old poets waited in line, all dolled up in their bow ties and gowns fit for a ball.

And boy, did we have a ball. As the band played the blues, I encouraged the young champions of jazz poetry to lay it down just like we had rehearsed, while the boys behind kept jammin’ in real time.

There truly is nothing more beautiful as a parent, I can imagine, than witnessing your child uniquely expressing themselves, letting loose their inhibitions and boldly facing up to an art that is the great representation of freedom in sound. What fierceness, what resolve these young spirits possessed as they surrendered to the moment while embracing life fully. Everyone who witnessed it felt the true power of a child with music in their heart.

Young Agusto Benavides steps up to the mic to share his blues verse with the crowd. Photo courtesy of Lana Reed

Young Agusto Benavides steps up to the mic to share his blues verse with the crowd. Photo courtesy of Lana Reed

San Antonio is bustling with jazz,  as you can see from the KRTU Calendar on any given night. Though places like the Olmos Bharmacy and Sam Ash already open up jam sessions to a younger audience, this is truly a unique take on “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)."

Get your dancing shoes on, bring your blankets and picnic baskets, and join Grayson Street Jazz as we live up to our motto – "You know the feeling you can't beat, when you're swingin' on Grayson Street!"

Click here for more information.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

*Top image: Families gather round at Lambermont to enjoy the sounds of Soulzzafying. Photo courtesy of Lana Reed.

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