"Lincoln Center has an educational outreach program, and in terms of jazz, we are the greatest jazz program in the county," said Bruce Sherman, executive director of the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center. Right now, the Center is just a group, but it hopes to bring an actual performing arts center to the Weehawken waterfront in the future.
The non-profit organization is dedicated to expanding the arts in North Hudson and North Jersey. They organize a series of concerts as part of their annual UBS Atrium Series; last year there were about 15 shows presented. The heritage of jazz dates back to the roots of African folk music and rhythms. Over time it fused with the cultural influences of Caribbean, Latino, and classical musical stylings. Various instrumentals have also taken the sound of jazz. from the syncopated rhythms of Ragtime and blues to the swinging revivals of classic and modern jazz.
"From what I have seen, children today are not exposed to different music genres as they should be," said Sherman. "That is what we [Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center] are all about; trying to let young people know that there is a larger heritage in the States, especially jazz."
Sounds on the riverfront
Other than jazz education, the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center has brought performances and workshops on blues, pop, folk, and Latin Jazz among others. The main goal of the organization is to build their performing arts center on the waterfront.
"That site is designated in Weehawken," said Sherman. "It will be a professional performing arts center, but it will be modest."
The vision for the performing arts center, although a final decision has not been reached, is to have a theatre that will roughly seat about 500 to 800 people. The organization is still in the process of more fundraising, acquiring the necessary permits, and coming up with a final design plan.
Sherman said, "We're an independent organization based in Weehawken, but our mission is a regional one."
All that jazz
On Friday, Nov. 12, Jazz at Lincoln Center brought their annual Jazz in the Schools Tour to the seventh graders of Jose Marti Middle School in Union City. This year's program, which is entitled "Let Freedom Swing," features the Marcus Strickland Quartet of New York City.
"We try to integrate the arts as much as possible, and we want [the students] to be exposed to [live] music," said Teresita Diaz, assistant principal at Jose Marti Middle School. "This is a great opportunity for them to see a live band performance for the first time."
Sherman said, "Today there are so many distracting things that can be entertaining, sitting in front of a TV or a computer for example. Throughout the years fewer people have pursued the whole experience of seeing a live performance."
The kids of Jose Marti responded to the program with profound enthusiasm and eagerly asked questions of the quartet during a Q-and-A session about jazz and music in general.
"I think it was really nice. They are a really good band and they play really well," said Edgar Bautista, 12. "They showcased their talent for us and were trying to teach us about music," said Gregorio Rojas.
Jose Marti Middle School, which just opened at the beginning of this academic year, has focused on developing good instrumental and vocal music programs as part of the school's curriculum. By bringing the program "Let Freedom Swing," the faculty and administrators hope to further encourage the development of this musical genre among their students.
"Next Tuesday, November 30, we're holding Latin Jazz night for the parents, so the parents get to enjoy what [kids are] enjoying too," said Diaz. "This is a community school, so the community can be part of it and benefit from what we're trying to do."
'Jazz: We celebrate it. We love it. We share it.'
Jazz in the Schools Tour, a two-week program that occurs twice a year, was developed by Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of their educational mission. For years, the tour has brought professional jazz artists to schools throughout the five boroughs in interactive, hour-long performances. Now, for the first time, they have extended their reach across the river through their invitation by the Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center.
"This is the first time it has come to New Jersey," said Sherman. "We reached out to them and they responded. They have a very big education position."
Sherman was able to bring the Marcus Strickland Quartet to four schools in the North Hudson area. Initially he had approached Diane Capizzi, the superintendent of curriculum in Union City, about bringing the program to one of the schools in Union City.
"She thought it was very beneficial for them to come to [Jose Marti]," said Diaz. "We're talking about the Lincoln Center, and these are the best of the best. This is an urban district, and [these kids] don't really get to do this type of thing."
As part of the program, the students are taught the basic fundamentals of jazz by these professional musicians, and get to experience a live jazz concert. The program also celebrates the universal language of music. "They also serve as role models [for any student] that might want to become a musician, and you can see them live," said Diaz.
"I thought it was something very interesting, that we can play instruments like jazz musicians and maybe do something with it one day," said Angie Castro, 12.
The Marcus Strickland Quartet, who have performed all over the world from the states to Spain and France, is made up of Marcus Strickland, saxophone; Reggie Qunierly, drums; John Sullivan, base; and Danny Grissett, keyboard. A New York-based jazz group, they were invited to be the featured guest for the fall tour, which runs from Nov. 8 through the 19th.
"It's a great program, and part of the vision of Wynton Marsalis [musical director of Jazz at Lincoln Center]," said Marcus Strickland, 25. "I think it's extremely important to remind [kids] that they have culture here in America, and jazz is a big part of that history."
The quartet's next project after the tour will be a concert in New York City some time in January. For more information on the group, visit marcusstrickland.com.
The Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center is preparing to begin their UBS Atrium Series, which is a monthly series of free lunchtime concerts in the atrium of the office building at 1000 Harbor Blvd. in Weehawken. This starts Thursday, Dec. 2 at 12:30 p.m. with world-renowned guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad. This season, they will be adding a couple of children's concerts. The first one will be on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 11 a.m. with a special holiday concert with the ever-popular Zucchini Brothers.
For more information call (201) 716-4540 or visit the HRPAC website at www.hrpac.org.