Grooming the next generation of jazz musicians in Delaware

    Up and coming jazz musicians are calling Wilmington home, as they take part in the second annual Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency.

    Selected through a competitive application process, 15 student musicians, ages 17 to 25, were selected for the immersive, intense, two-week training program named for jazz trumpeter and educator Robert “Boysie” Lowery.

    “It’s about bringing jazz players and composers, young jazz players and composers, in contact with mentors,” said Jonathan Whitney, program director. “We give them a lot of rehearsal time with the mentors, the faculty mentors, they get a lot of time with the leading musicians in jazz right now, so they can not only hear what their philosophies are, get feedback on their pieces from them, but also we do an hour Q&A session with them afterwards, so you get to ask questions about everything about the business.”

    The students are divided into groups, based on what they play and their music styles. Together, they work on performing, composing, arranging and improvisation.

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    “They all come into this residency with a tune of their own, and they arrange it for the instruments that are available, that are in their ensemble, and they get a chance to perfect it, to really polish it up before they present it in our final concert,” said residency teacher Vernon James, who was also a former student of Lowery’s.

    That end-of-program concert is free, open to the public and will take place at the Queen Theater Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. The graduates will perform the original compositions they’ve been working on throughout their residency.

    “Our vision is to become a jazz residency that is known for encouraging and nurturing the next generation of jazz performers and preparing them for a lifelong journey of self-discovery and self-exploration,” said Tina Betz, program coordinator and executive director of the Light Up the Queen Foundation.

    Residency draws talent

    Musicians from some of the top music schools in the country are represented on the residency’s student roster.

    Chien Chien Lu is an international student at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Instead of going home to Taiwan this summer, a teacher at UArts encouraged her to apply for the residency. Lu plays the vibraphone.

    “This residency? Totally great,” Lu said. “We have like listening session, so we listen all the music together and we not just only discuss music, we also discuss life, your attitude. Like it’s all about communication and balance. We discuss this kind of stuff a lot.”

    When Lu was growing up in Taiwan, she took up piano at 6 and contemporary percussion instruments at 10. She mostly played the likes of Bach and Beethoven, she said.

    “And one day I just listened to radio show and I found out jazz music. I really liked that kind of sound,” Lu said. “I like jazz because I can improvise. I think that’s the most honest way to play music, like, you can bring yourself into music.”

    Pianist Oliver Glynn was accepted into the jazz residency during its inaugural year and applied, and got in, again this year. Glynn studies at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Chapel Hill.

    “It was a mind-blowing experience. Completely changed my perspective on music and how to learn music,” said Glynn, describing his first year. “I had never been around players of this caliber of jazz, and teachers of this caliber.”

    Glynn loves the social aspect of jazz. “Every player brings what they have to the table and interacts with each other, where, it’s one frustration that I have sometimes in the classical world is that players just read the page and they’re not putting in that extra bit that makes it music.”

    That “extra bit,” is what Whitney hopes to cultivate and nurture during the program.

    Personal attention

    The Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency has expanded from grooming 13 student composers last year to 15 this year. While Whitney wants to see the program grow, he said the class size needs to stay smallish so the program doesn’t lose its intimacy.

    “The staff knows every player, not just by name, but by style, their needs, what they’re strong with, everything – we know everything about them,” Whitney said. 

    That intimacy also allows students to network with the professional musicians. For example, Whitney said a bass player from last year recorded a song with one of the guest artists he brought in. “We’re exposing them to the people that they will be playing with later.”

    Money is a factor as well.

    “We have to keep the number low because we actually subsidize everything. All that they do is travel, they have to take care of travel. We house them, we feed them, we pay for tickets to all the shows they go to, we transport them, we take care of everything,” Whitney added. “It just takes away any roadblocks so these students that are passionate about this music can come and focus on it for two weeks.”

    LUQ provides the funding with generous support from other organizations. For example, The Grand Opera House lets Whitney use their practice rooms at a reduced rate, Delaware College of Art and Design is giving him a break to rent dorms where the students can live, and the Kenny Family Foundation, which owns many ShopRite supermarkets, donated lots of food. 

    The Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency is based on Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program in Washington, D.C. Whitney said he received a lot of program development guidance from the Kennedy Center’s prestigious program leaders.

    Whitney said the program will return next summer and the application process will open up this winter.

    Lowery’s most noted pupil was the late Clifford Brown. The 5-day Wilmington jazz festival named after Brown gets underway tonight in Rodney Square.

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