Jazz Cats in the Big City: Linde takes GDS band to New York

Abigail Alpern Fisch

Linde Takes GDS Band to New York

Earlier this spring, Georgetown Day High School Jazz students traveled to New York City to experience an unforgettable day of jazz music with visits to different venues throughout the city. Teacher Brad Linde, GDS’s new Director of Jazz and Creative Instrumental Music Studies, got the idea for the trip after freshman jazz students Benji Ishimaru and Hugo Day would “loudly and comically” voice their admiration for the famous trumpet player and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis throughout the year. “Almost every day, Benji and Hugo would come into my 8th period class enthusiastically saying Wynton Marsalis’ name,” says Linde. “I eventually contacted Lincoln Center in New York to ask if I could bring up a group to observe a rehearsal of Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.” Linde, along with Alison Seese, Topher Dunne, and John Burghardt, accompanied 30 students to New York City for this unique performance.

Linde was able to invite all interested jazz students to attend the rehearsal at Lincoln Center of Marsalis’ new piece called “Spaces,” which includes two dancers, Lil Buck and Jared Grimes. To create a full day of activity, Linde also brought students on a walking tour of the West Village to stop by legendary jazz clubs such as Village Vanguard, Smalls, 55 Bar, the Blue Note, and the Fat Cat, where students played ping pong and shuffleboard while listening to the performances of different jazz musicians. “I hoped to show the jazz students what jazz can be in its different forms,” Linde said of the trip. “Students were able to experience jazz in its many forms: catch a glimpse of an artist’s creative process by watching a rehearsal in a fancy theater such as Lincoln Center, have jazz as a part of their culture and background while they played games in underground jazz clubs in the Village, and later see a show at a supper club where the performance and music commands your attention,” he added.

An unexpected bonus to the trip was the group’s opportunity to actually meet and speak with Wynton Marsalis after his rehearsal. Linde asked Marsalis to come out and talk to the students before he went on his break, and he was more than happy to do so: “Marsalis was very agreeable to say hello, and he shook everyone’s hand before taking a picture with Benji and Hugo,” Linde said. Senior Malayna Nesbitt remembered that Marsalis “answered some really good questions that [the students] asked, and he also gave some very good advice about being a musician such as how it takes constant practice and effort in order to improve.” Ishimaru was even able to hold Marsalis’s trumpet.

Other outside-the-classroom experiences that Linde has incorporated into his curriculum have included jazz festivals in North Carolina, a master class at the Library of Congress, and the opportunity for students to open for the Atlas Performing Art Center’s jazz series. In February, 12 jazz students attended two festivals in North Carolina hosted by Elon University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The universities hosted a high school competition for big bands and small groups, and two student-led small groups from GDS participated. Many of the GDS students were given awards and recognized for their playing at both festivals. In addition to winning awards, the opportunity for GDS students to see how high school students from other schools across the country are playing music is a unique and important learning experience that Linde has sought to incorporate into his teaching: “It is a way to get out of the bubble to see the possible competition, as well as become inspired by what can be accomplished. Hopefully the students may expand their expectations of what their music can become,” he said.

Nesbitt noted the importance of these types of extracurricular trips for the jazz program: “Going on these trips with Brad definitely makes us students more enthusiastic about learning jazz and music in general because each trip has provided such an amazing opportunity for us to meet, watch, and play with amazing musicians,” she said, “Also, our class’s focus on learning about jazz history and important jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus has been a learning experience which I have really enjoyed.” Indeed, the practice on fundamentals of playing jazz (reading music and playing by ear), combined with the learning of jazz history, has given current jazz students the confidence “to bring their own voice into the music” through improvisation and informed decision making, as Linde remarked.

The possibilities for jazz students arising out of Linde’s transforming music curriculum seem endless.“There is a word on the board here that I love referring to,” said Linde. “My friend, colleague, and famous drummer Matt Wilson always says it. The word is ‘Allow,’ meaning allow for anything to happen, allow for the influence to come in, allow for the chance to grow. That is what I told the students when we got off the bus in New York: let these experiences change you.”