Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Vincent Gardner
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent several weeks with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is returning to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017. The interview below is with Vincent Gardner, lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Photo: Vincent Gardner with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Teagan Faran: Could you tell us about your role at the JLCO?
Vincent Gardner: I’m the lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I’m also the director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Youth Orchestra, and I’m the Swing University professor. I teach classes here on jazz history and different aspects of jazz history. I’ve been here about 16 years.
TF: What about Jazz at Lincoln Center attracted to you initially?
VG: I guess when I first joined the band, I was what I’m still now, just a trombone player, who just had to play with the best musicians possible – well, musicians that I like and get along with and enjoy making music with. Those are also the ones who would inspire me to get better playing.
That was the biggest draw for Jazz at Lincoln Center. It’s a great organization. It inspires me and allows me to contribute to it. More so than just being a trombone player in a band, that is the difference. Here I have a chance to be a lot more invested in everything that goes on.
TF: Is there anything else that you would say makes Jazz at Lincoln Center stand out?
VG: I’m encouraged to connect to every part of the music. I think it’s essential in jazz music that you are always connected to every part of the music, not just what you play on your instrument. They’ve taken that philosophy here and put it into an institution, and that’s the greatest thing. You get to be involved. You’re encouraged to be involved as much as you want to be.
TF: What suggestions would you have for other ensembles that want to integrate music into their community in the same way that Jazz at Lincoln Center has?
VG: I would imagine that just about every community has great musicians or somebody doing great things in music or in the arts. You have to embrace those people and bring that community together under the guise of an institution that embraces all of the people who are doing great things for the arts.
We are a very big and prominent institution here in the city. In a smaller city, if you want to start an institution, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be as big, but it could still be very influential. You have to find out who the movers and shakers are in the arts. Who are the people that are genuinely trying to advance the arts and arts education in your city. Find out who the greatest teachers are, most genuine and greatest teachers are. Find the most talented kids, always get around the most talent.
It’s kind of the same thing playing in this group, being around the most talent and being around people who are most motivated. Once you find those people in any situation, you’ll find that you have similar goals.
TF: As a performing artist and arts educator, what are the biggest challenges you feel you’re facing today?
VG: Well, they are the same challenges. They’re not different. The biggest challenge is making sure that the same information is being communicated in the best way. For example, let’s talk about music instruction. The way they teach jazz music is not standardized. You have people who have the title of jazz educator or jazz band director, who are teaching complete misinformation to their students. Their bands don’t sound as good as a result, but because there is no other local standard or no standardized way of teaching it, they think it sounds fine. The community thinks it sounds fine because the community doesn’t really know the music anymore.
That’s one of the biggest things. You don’t find that in classical music, you don’t find that in other music. It’s only in jazz music, which is the music of this country, that you find such disparity in the level of teaching. That’s the thing I see the most in my teaching and in my traveling. It’s very hard at this point to standardize it and make sure it’s all on a high level.
TF: What would you say to a student who’s on the fence about attending a JLCO concert?
VG: I’d say, “It won’t hurt.” It definitely won’t hurt anything, and you’re going to hear a band full of great musicians, playing genuine music that has the ability to connect with people. It’s not something that’s marketed towards any one person or was ever meant to be reserved for any one group of people. That’s inherent in the sound of Swing. It can’t be played in a way that restricts it from anybody. It’s not possible to do that.
I would say that you will come, and you will find something in there that does connect with you. It could be different for every person, but it will be there because it’s inherent in music. It’s meant to connect with people. That’s the thing I would tell somebody: Take a chance. Everyone should give jazz a chance. Everyone should go to jazz concerts a few times a year.
Go to reconnect with that American ideal put into music – what’s great about society, about being American, and about people from anywhere.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017.