The Maestro is INN

The Maestro is INN

by Matthew S. Robinson, ARR

copyright © 2004 Matthew S. Robinson, ARR

A panel discussion of The Music Inn and the state of jazz in New England was hosted by the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) and the New England Jazz Alliance (NEJA) at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival on September 4, 2004.

After the fourth annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival kicked off with a performance by Jimmy Slyde and tap phenom Savion Glover and a live taping of Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" with the equally impressive young pianist Taylor Eigsti, a number of the late summer jazz fans retired to Seranak — the fabled home of Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Serge Koussevitsky — for a discussion of another fabled area domicile, Stephanie Barber's Music Inn. Among the distinguished panelists were Barber's stepson Benjamin, NEJA Western Mass. Director Ed Bride, WICN radio General Manager Brian Barlow, pianist/composer/living legend Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola. After introductions by moderator Jon Hammond of WRIU radio, Barber reminisced about the famed music school in the Berkshire's summer mansion area.

"The Inn was always connected to music, but it was not always jazz," he reminded, recalling performances and lessons from the likes of Woody Guthrie and Mahalia Jackson as well as sessions with Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and "house band" the Modern Jazz Quartet. "It was, however, the site where jazz became self-conscious and aware of itself as an art form and musical genre."

Click to view photos by Ken Franckling

Barber also suggested that the Inn was the first site of inter-racial relations in the region. "It was a prelude to the Civil Rights movement," he maintained, adding another layer of import to the venue, "and proof that African-Americans were intellectually aware." Iola Brubeck then personalized the Inn by recalling the summers she had spent there with Dave and their children. "It was a stimulating place," she said, "and a friendly place for cultures to come together."

"It was also a country setting for what was traditionally urban music," Barber added. After Mr. Brubeck recalled anecdotes of working at the Inn and else where with Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland and others, the discussion jumped ahead in time to consider the current state of jazz in the region.

"There are less than 15 full-time jazz stations in New England," Barlow said, noting that his station had grown over 50 per cent in overall listenership in the past year. Even so, he lamented, while there are plenty of musicians in the area thanks to places like Tanglewood, Berklee, New England Conservatory and other institutions, "exposure is bleak."

"If jazz is to grow," Bride suggested, "we need to start people in it earlier." As a supporter of the jazz education movement, Bride is excited to see the reactions of young people to what he called "non-technical music."

"It's amazing to see these kids light up when we bring jazz to their schools," he said. "The kids need this music and we need to expose them to it as early as possible."

"At my Institute," Brubeck said of his music study center, based in Stockton, California, "we get about 75 tapes a year from potential students. It is often a difficult choice."

"There is lots of talent in New England," Iola added.

"And it gives me hope because so many of them are so brilliant," Dave continued. "I once let Taylor Eigsti sit in with me. Wrong move! He played stuff that was so complicated, it was just amazing!"

So despite the fact that it may be limited to certain venues and specific demographics, there does appear to be hope for the future of jazz. Our job as journalists and as fans is to help spread the word and the music.

NOTE: The panel was filmed for a forthcoming documentary on the Inn. Be on the lookout!

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