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Jazz & Strings Tour to New York City WCS Wells Cathedral School Independent Prep Somerset England

Jazz & Strings tour to New York City

The Jazz and String Departments took part in an action-packed and inspirational tour to New York City which included masterclasses, workshops and concerts across Manhattan and Queens in February this year.

Smalls Jazz Club was one of the group’s first stops. Smalls is one of the few remaining authentic clubs left in Greenwich Village that runs an open jam session. It is on every jazz musician’s list of ‘must visit’ venues when visiting NYC. Pupils nervously put themselves forward to perform on stage alongside locals and Manhattan based students and they handled themselves very well indeed. Alongside playing, it was wonderful for them to be able to chat to US-based musicians and to enjoy the atmosphere.

Another ‘must see’, also based in Greenwich Village, was The Village Vanguard – a jazz venue that has been in the same position since it opened in 1935. To be able to walk down the same steps as legends such as John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans and countless others was very special indeed. The group watched two sets by The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, a big band that was started by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and has had a weekly residency at the club since 1965!

The Jazz Combo took part in two excellent masterclasses with two very different jazz educators. Firstly they worked with virtuoso saxophonist and social media star musician Chad Lefkowfitz-Brown at Michiko Rehearsal Studios. Later in the week, they attended a class at Jazz at Lincoln Centre with Alexa Tarantino. Alexa is one of the foremost jazz musicians and educators in New York at the moment and a wonderful advocate for women working in jazz and music in general. The classes were diverse but insightful with some tangible objectives to think about in future practice.

Both the Jazz and String cohorts spent time at the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) where they were made to feel very welcome as they were greeted by the President of the School before being taken on a guided tour. Dean & Director of Jazz Arts, Ingrid Jensen, arranged for them to sit in on a rehearsal with the School’s Afro Cuban Big Band. Band director John Benitez invited our pupils to solo with the band and their playing was clearly well received! At MSM our String players observed lessons given by members of the American Quartet, Peter Winograd and Laurie Carney (who also currently teaches two OWs, Vivian Kao, 2022, and Caitlin Marshall, 2019!).

An afternoon trip on the subway to Queens and the Copland School of Music showed the group another side of the big city life, and gave them the opportunity to work with one of New York’s most distinguished teachers – Daniel Philips – who is on the faculty at Juilliard, and at Queens is currently teaching another OW, Chloë Dickens (2018).

It was fascinating to make contact with these highly distinguished teachers, to hear the perspective of our former pupils on their lives in New York, and the way their studies at Wells had equipped them for the next stage of their musical lives.

Our String players also visited the Julliard School on three separate occasions. Guided by OW Ian Lum (2018) they observed cello teaching (passing Itzakh Perlman’s teaching studio on the way!) and listened to a very high class evening of viola playing. They were also delighted to attend the fourth year graduation recital by a highly interesting violinist.

The final night was spent at the ‘Jazz Corner of the World’: Birdland Jazz Club, originally a 52nd Street staple and now based in the heart of Manhattan’s Theatreland. Here the group watched Miles Davis alumnus Mike Stern and his band (which included international stars Dennis Chambers, Victor Wooten & Bob Franceschini) present a set of original fusion music.

As you might imagine, being in a city such as New York, the trip was culturally stimulating in all sorts of ways in addition to the musical activities. The group visited the Museum of Modern Art and spent some time sightseeing around Central Park, Times Square, Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. A visit to some of New York’s wonderful music shops was a must and Charlie (Lower Sixth) was delighted to see and play on a trumpet mouthpiece that belonged to Louis Armstrong!

Finally, it was wonderful to catch up with a variety of Old Wellensians now studying or living in the city. There are a huge number of OWs based within easy reach of the East Coast and around 20 of them ranging from School leavers in the 1980s to some who left just a few years ago joined the group for a drinks reception. There was a lovely atmosphere and the highlight was seeing our pupils perform informally for the event. It never fails to amaze Mr Leaker, Co-ordinator of Woodwind, Jazz and Popular Music, how our musicians can produce a stunning performance in any situation – customers in other areas of the venue were as delighted as our Wellensian audience were!

Jazz & Strings Tour to New York City WCS Wells Cathedral School Independent Prep Somerset England

His Majesty King Charles III retains Patronage of Wells Cathedral School
We are delighted that His Majesty King Charles III will remain the Patron of Wells Cathedral School.

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