It’s billed as Conversations in Jazz, a concert presentation that takes young audiences on a musical discovery of jazz from its roots in Africa to maturation in America. It’s “all that jazz” and all about the children.
The concert is part of a series of live shows at Mechanics Hall called Concerts for Kids. Since its inception in 1994, Concerts for Kids has delivered this experience to more than 70,000 young people. Presented every other year, Conversations in Jazz has been an integral part of this award-winning program.
This year marks the ninth production for WPI. It is the brainchild of Professor Rich Falco, and when he speaks of the program, he becomes as animated as a little kid. “Aside from festival judging and the occasional masterclass as a guest artist, I have little opportunity to interact with young students,” Falco says. “I love this program. It allows me to bring my excitement about this music to a really young audience, 3rd to 6th graders, many of whom have never seen a live jazz performance.
“What a thrill to see them enthusiastically embrace the energy of live jazz. These kids are wide-eyed and ready for anything. And they really ‘get it,’ the unfolding of the history of jazz over decades in America.”
Who: WPI Jazz Ensemble, WPI Stage Band, Rich Falco, director and master of ceremonies; WPI African Percussion; Linda Dagnello, vocalist; and the Sonic Explorers, led by trumpeter Jerry Sabatini.
What: Conversations in Jazz
Where: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St.
When: Monday, April 6, at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Call: 508-752-5608 or online at www.mechanicshall.org
The program is a partnership among WPI, Mechanics Hall, and the Worcester Public Schools. Assisting Falco in this effort is a host of WPI ensembles along with the Joy of Music, the Sonic Explorers Jazz Ensemble, and vocalist Linda Dagnello.
“I narrate the history of jazz from its African roots to New Orleans style (Dixieland), to big band, bebop, and modern styles,” Falco says. “Each era of jazz is represented by a musical piece demonstrating what was just discussed. It’s a fast-paced and exciting program designed specifically for their age group.”
It all starts with antiphonal African drumming in the balconies of Mechanics Hall. “Then the drummers move to the main stage and we discuss improvisation through variations and ‘signals,’ drum conversations and signals,” Falco says. “Members of our WPI African percussion ensemble, directed by Jeremy Cohen, are dressed in costumes and play authentic drums—loud and fast—just what kids need to grab their attention.”
This is the first time performing in Conversations in Jazz for saxophonist Joe Pisano. He is a WPI alum, class of 1988, who was invited back into the fold to play. “I am really excited to do it,” he says. “This is a priceless opportunity. If we play Conversations in Jazz and touch a few future giants in the crowd, it is all worth it.”
This is Linda Dagnello’s fifth time participating in the concert. “I felt very privileged when Rich invited me to augment his very informative and exciting history of jazz program for elementary school children with the introduction of the voice as an instrument,” she says. “I have the opportunity to speak to the children after they have heard and seen many types of instruments and then have a singalong during ‘When the Saints go Marching In.’
“I love being a part of this amazingly well-put-together history that Rich unfolds for the children, and feel that my purpose is partially to enable their understanding of how accessible jazz and the shared conversation of this music can be to all of them, through their voices, something that they already possess.”
Falco says, “I hope students take with them the idea that each person has something special to contribute to a ‘conversation,’ something unique … that they are respected and valued and that jazz allows them to express this through musical language.
“There is nothing I love more than sharing this music with young minds and fresh ears. It is often the highlight of my academic year. My students understand the impact they are having on these young ones. Plus, my WPI students love signing autographs.”