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Arts & Entertainment

A Chance for Kids to Learn Jazz ‘Improv’

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January 12, 2023

By Jeff Wilson–

Jazz drummer Ron Vincent smiles and watches his bandmates approvingly as he plays. The veteran musician’s passion for the genre is clear to everyone who comes to see the spirited monthly jam sessions at Tarrytown’s Jazz Forum. It’s an adult scene of course, but Vincent wants to share his love of improvisational jazz with young people as well.

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To that end Vincent and his co-director (and spouse) Nancy Kennedy are launching the Jazz Forum Student Ensemble, an 11-week program beginning in February which offers aspiring young musicians in grades 5-12 the opportunity to become jazz improvisors. Students interested in joining must have at least 2 years’ experience on their instrument (all instruments are welcome), know the scales and be comfortable reading music. School band training is helpful. Vincent spoke in an interview about improvisational jazz, the art of creating melodic lines spontaneously. The word fun kept coming up. “It’s fun to be able to create something on the spot, to improvise, to make something up,” he explained. “That’s the reason musicians stick with it – it’s so much fun.” Vincent discussed his M.O. of starting the course with a very manageable piece so the students don’t get frustrated coming out of the gate. “The idea,” he said, “is that they succeed when they try. I pick material that will allow them to succeed right away. Once kids get the courage to try it, they find that it’s fun, not as hard as they thought it would be. They get interested in learning more about it. It’s just how to address them at their level and move along,” he concluded.

This is Vincent’s first time teaching at Jazz Forum, the not-for-profit club located at 1 Dixon Lane in Tarrytown, where he signed on at the invitation of Jazz Forum Arts’ executive director and trumpeter Mark Morganelli. Vincent is not new to coaching young musicians, however – he’s worked with other nonprofits and at his Dobbs Ferry home for the past 10 or 12 years. “I started out with three kids in one ensemble and it blossomed to the point where I had 24 kids in three ensembles on three different days,” he recalled. “It really took off.”

A ringing endorsement of the program came from Leah, a now-23-year-old  Hastings resident who played flute in Vincent’s ensembles from 7th grade until she graduated (and currently studies piano with Kennedy, who was also her ensemble teacher). Leah was won over almost immediately. “I fell in love with [jazz improv] by the second lesson,” she confessed.

Leah gushed over not only Vincent’s teaching, but also the way he encouraged her and built her self-esteem. “Ron transformed me. I’m a very different person in my level of confidence than I was as a kid,” she admitted. Leah went so far as to praise Vincent’s selection of material. “The music Ron picked was so good that I kept my entire music binder.”

The program runs every Monday, 5:30 to 7:00 pm, from February 6 to April 10, followed by a community service concert. (Kids are looking forward to taking classes onstage at a real jazz club, said Vincent.) The cost is $650 per student, with a limited number of scholarships available. To enroll, go to www.jazzforumarts.org, click on “more” from the banner, then “Jazz Forum Student Ensemble.” Clicking on “Register Your Interest” leads to a questionnaire to fill out, after which you will be contacted by the directors.

“Once they get a taste of it, they come back for more,” Vincent promises.

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