Using jazz to communicate
Ray Blue’s music illustrates Black History Month for Benton students
By JIM MAGDEFRAU
NORWAY – Jazz music filled the hall of Benton Community’s Norway Elementary Center, provided by international jazz saxophonist Ray Blue last Thursday afternoon.
Blue was at an assembly for all Benton Community elementary students, using his life story and what he called “classic American music,” called jazz – an art form created in this country – to illustrate Black History Month.
He told the young students, “It’s the ONLY form of art we have shared with the rest of the world … the only one.”
Blue stressed America was formed by people from all over the world coming together to form a nation, and that everyone in the gym is part of this country, no matter where their great-grandparents came from.
In addition to being a parent, grandparent, musician and educator, he said he works very hard to be the best person he can be. “That’s very important for all of us. Our goal is be the best person we can be.”
Black History Month means a lot, he said, as people celebrate the contributions from people of color and of African descent.
His band opened with a familiar song relevant to Black History Month, written by a former slave trader, James Newton, who eventually saw another way and made his testimony through “Amazing Grace.”
His second song, “Preach Preachers Preach,” was about the importance of churches and spirituality.
The students also had a brief lesson in music theory, as he explained the basic chords of a song, then how jazz musicians create new melodies based on the basic I/IV/V chords.
Music, he told the students, is a language and what people use to make sense out of things, to celebrate their family and their community, agreeing that it takes an entire village to raise a child. Many have the responsibility to educate the students. It’s all a part of being a part of a community, he said.
He added there are lessons students can learn from one another.
“It takes an entire community to raise a child,” he told the students, “but you’re responsible, too … to make good choices, to make good decisions … the best that we can. We know what’s right. We know what isn’t right. We know what’s good for us, and we sure know what’s bad for us. We know that we like to be treated fairly, so we treat others fairly.”
He stressed, “That’s how we grow. We always need one another’s help.”
That was how he grew up.
America is a very young country, Blue observed. Even though it’s young, America is important to the world community, just as all in here are important to their community and to the world.
“One of the things I was taught as a young black American was that we are going to have to be twice as good, study twice as hard to get things than others that are not black. At that time it was true. We had this thing in the country called segregation, where blacks and whites couldn’t come together. Then people became more and more aware that something needed to be different. This is a nation where all men are created equal, so it’s time to practice that. We worked hard and we’re still working hard, to the point that we now have an African-American president – something that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. But I’m wrong, and I don’t mind being wrong. It shows me that we have tremendous ability to open our hearts, our minds to grow, to take risks and make changes, and to make the best decisions that we need to make.”
He urged the students wanting to learn about jazz to start with Miles Davis. He made the students repeat his name, as well as other names to “Google” – Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Petersen, Charlie Parker and Luke Donaldson.
In a question-answer session, he asked them to look up Davis’ famous album, “Kind of Blue,” as a starting point for jazz.
Just as jazz is a form of communication, he urged the students to talk to one another.
UPDATED March 2, 2010 11:26 AM