Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Kenny Rampton
University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent Summer 2016 with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. The interview below is with Kenny Rampton, trumpet with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The group returns to Ann Arbor with pianist Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Photo: Left to right, Wynton Marsalis, Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, and Marcus Printup. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Teagan Faran: How long have you been working with Jazz Lincoln Center?
Kenny Rampton: I joined full time in June 2010. I’ve been kind of in and out as a sub more or less since the 90s. I’ve known Wynton for a long time and had also been in and out of the band before it was an established, regular band. In the beginning, it was kind of a mix with players – maybe nine trumpet players – and Wynton would call upon us, and we’d play depending on who’s available. We were all freelancing with different bands and then eventually became a set band.
TF: What about the organization attracted you to join? What makes JLCO stand out?
KR: First and foremost is the educational aspect of it. I grew up in Las Vegas, and when I was a little kid, my parents were involved in music education. My mom actually fought the school district in Clark County, Nevada where I grew up because they were trying to fire all the music teachers in elementary schools. My mom was against that. She fought the school district to make sure that there was music education in the schools from elementary school on. My dad was a percussionist, and he played in all the schools for the kids. They were both about music education and from the time I was born, music education has been part of my life.
Coming here to New York, I was touring with Ray Charles and then with Mingus Band and Jimmy McGriff. They were all great gigs, but what makes JLCO and this organization stand out more than anything else is the education. We do a lot. I just finished a master class in Poland. I did one in Cuba and others all throughout South America. We do education all over the world. To me, that’s extremely important. For me, it’s full circle. It’s continuing my parents’ work.
The other thing is that it’s just a really good band. I like playing with people who are better than me. Playing in this trumpet session with Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup and Wynton. It’s just inspiring.
TF: Do you feel like it’s more beneficial to be with the same people in a band and get to know them?
KR: With this band, yes. I’ve done other gigs, like Broadway shows where you’re playing the same music every night, the exact same way. That can be grueling. One thing about this band is that it’s the same people, but we’re always doing new music. Normally, most of the concerts we do are brand new arrangements for that specific concert.
We’re always challenging each other with the arrangements in the band, so that keeps it interesting and helps to maintain an environment where we’re all continuously growing. The better you get, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize there’s always room for improvement. No matter how good you get, there’s always another level to get to. It’s great.
TF: As a musician and arts educator, what do you think is different about what you’re trying to accomplish nowadays, as opposed to 10 or 15 years ago?
KR: For me personally, I’m more conscious of what it is I’m trying to do. I have more direction. Before, when I first got into playing music, it was something I was good at. I was drawn to music because of that, and it was about my ego. Then, I started to become aware that music is actually not about me. It’s actually my purpose. I consider music to be a spirit that touches people and can make a difference. I started to become more aware of that and realized that when we play music, it affects people’s mood. People can come out of a gig feeling good or feeling bad. We can consciously go into it, wanting to make a difference in somebody else and how they feel.
My purpose changed after realizing this. That’s the biggest difference for me in the last decade, as I started to see music as my way of making a positive difference on the planet and life. I started seeing music as something that can really change a life and make a real difference. You realize that music can touch the heart, the spirit, and raise their vibration. Because that’s what music is, it’s a vibration. It becomes more than about me and having somebody to tell me how good I sound. It becomes a spiritual quest or a calling.
There’re so many great humanistic qualities to learning to play jazz music that we can teach students. Whether they become professional musicians or not isn’t the point, but they will become better people. You can’t help but become a better person when you have empathy and when you know how to negotiate and work with other people.
You might be in disagreement about something, but you still work together and you find a common ground, that’s what music teaches us. When we teach students, I always stress that understanding. That’s really what it’s about.
TF: What would you say to a student who’s on the fence about attending the concert?
KR: Why would somebody be on the fence about attending a concert to hear good music? To any student, I say check out everyone and any concert you can that can possibly open up doors and inside yourself. It’s not even necessarily about doors to meet players and network, there’s that. You meet people so you network, and the more opportunities you can have to meet people who are doing what it is that you want to do, the better for networking purposes.
Beyond that, you never know when somebody on that stage is going to play something extraordinary. As a student, you sit there in the audience and think, “Wow, I didn’t know that can be done on the saxophone.” It’s going to open up something that makes you want to practice and to be inspired.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor with Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
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.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Carlos Henriquez
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 Carlos Henriquez, bassist with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Photo: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Carlos Henriquez on bass. Courtesy of the artist.
Teagan Faran: How long have you been with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?
Carlos Henriquez: About 15 years now.
TF: What about the organization attracted you to it?
CH: I was 13 when I met Wynton [Marsalis] through the Music Advancement Program at Juilliard. I just started hanging around him and going to some of the rehearsals. I started playing at the rehearsals, too, and then, just hanging. One thing led to another.
TF: What about Jazz Lincoln Center makes it stand out from other musical organizations to you?
CH: It’s the educational portion of it, the outreach program. JLCO is always looking for talent but also supporting other musical programs.
TF: What would you suggest to other ensembles that want to be a part of the community the way that Jazz Lincoln Center is in Manhattan?
CH: Well, I think they can look at the model for educational programming at JLCO. Many shows produced by JLCO start on a very small scale. It’s good to involve your community like we’ve done in New York and just find people who are really into the arts
TF: What are some of the challenges you think you face as a performer nowadays?
CH: The biggest challenge is the times. Times are changing, so what’s happening is that people are either not informed or their knowledge of music is very limited. People are more informed about pop culture than other culture. It’s complicated.
TF: What is the performance dynamic like in Ann Arbor?
CH: It’s always been an educational environment. Every time I’ve been there, it’s always working with students and the students seeing us play. That part is so great. Ann Arbor is also not far from Detroit, and there’re so many great Jazz musicians who come through that region. Every time we go, we usually meet great musicians and even play with them.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017.
Student Spotlight: Teagan Faran at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.
U-M student Tegan Faran was paired with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Summer 2016. The group returns to Ann Arbor with pianist Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Left: A sunny day in NYC is well spent exploring Central Park. This was a favorite spot especially thanks to the nearby Dominican ice cream vendors. Right: Serenaded by 2 students of JALC’s WeBop Class learning about the instruments of a jazz band. All photos by Teagan Faran.
New York City is beyond famous. A museum on every corner, neighborhoods full of culture from every corner of the world, everywhere you look the Big Apple is the supreme destination for any tourist. Anyone staying in the city any longer may notice other (un)endearing traits: over-friendly rodents, the same faces camping out on the same subway stairs night after night, that very distinct aroma of over 8 million people sharing the same space. Amidst this wild jungle of life, though, an organization stands as the obvious crown jewel of NYC: Jazz at Lincoln Center. Overlooking the Central Park entrance at Columbus Circle, J@LC works to enliven an American art form, unite the people of NYC, and simply bring joy to as many as possible.
Left: fellow intern Kristina and I demonstrate the props for Essentially Ellington Festival’s social media booth. Right: Watching overhead as Wynton Marsalis directs a JLCO rehearsal.
Having only been in Manhattan for a single weekend before this summer, I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I stepped off the plane at LaGuardia. All I can say is that Manhattan truly lived up to its reputation of being a wild place to live!
I began my internship with the Education Department right as the fantastic whirlwind that is their Essentially Ellington Festival started up. The festival is the finale of the year-long program that Jazz at Lincoln Center has put together. Inspired by the idea that jazz should belong to everyone, J@LC has made numerous amateur-level jazz band scores available to schools all over the world. Schools that wish to compete in the Festival can send in a recording of their band playing some of these charts. From all these applicants, fifteen get to travel to New York to compete. The weekend is so much more than a competition, though; each day the students and teachers were immersed in the culture of jazz. Late night jam sessions, workshops with JLCO members, and a chance to perform in Frederick P. Rose Hall – these students truly got the treatment for this weekend!
Left: The majority of a successful show takes place backstage. Monitors in the back hallway track the artists on the Appel Room stage. Right: A performance in the Appel Room gives the audience two shows: musicians on stage and the city that never sleeps through the window.
It was my job to make sure that all of this happened smoothly. I was given a walkie-talkie and a brief tour of back stage before being set off into the crowd of excited students. I began by ushering a band from Utah over to their classroom for their first coaching with a JLCO member. I sat in the back of Dizzy’s watching the band rehearse and listening to Sherman Irby’s carefully thought-out critiques and encouragements. All the while, happy and nervous parents paced the back of the hall, telling me all about how hard the band had worked to prepare for the festival. The bands were also encouraged to get to know each other better throughout the weekend, and by the time the final ceremony ended, Rose Hall was filled with an obvious air of camaraderie and love.
Left: Speaking with the effervescently kind Cat Henry, VP of Concerts and Touring, about a career in arts administration. Right: I was lucky to meet Erika Floreska, former UMS employee, who now runs a community music school in Manhattan.
While all of this was happening, I was simultaneously discovering just what it took to live in Manhattan. Troubles with my housing situation led me to staying in about eight or nine different places in my seven and a half weeks in New York (forgive me, if I’ve lost track of the exact number!). I began to figure out which streets to avoid after sunset and learned how to avoid persistent cat-callers. Ever caring, however, my supervisors in the Education Department took me under their wing and helped to lessen the learning curve of Manhattan life. And this is what made my internship and this organization so incredibly noteworthy: the people behind the idea.
Left: Wherever you turn in NYC, there is ample opportunity to be a tourist. Looking back on Manhattan, the sun breaks past the World One Observatory. Right: My home for two months at Columbus Circle.
Rewind for a second, back to my very first day with J@LC. I was sat down in a conference room and given a large stack of papers – some to sign, but mostly to read. In these packets were the words written by Wynton Marsalis about this very organization. “The mission of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to entertain, enrich, and expand a global community for Jazz…we believe Jazz is a metaphor for Democracy…it inspires us to face adversity with persistent optimism,” reads the organization’s mission statement online. The packet I was given included Mr. Marsalis’s expanded ideas on this topic and his guidelines for how J@LC is to be run. I heard it said at some point that he runs the office in the same way he runs a rehearsal: everyone is responsible for their own ideas and strategies, but all are working towards the common goal.
Left: Band members and parents file past for the 2016 Essentially Ellington Competition. Right: A city saturated in culture! I enjoyed walking from Columbus Circle to see shows by the American Ballet Theatre and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.
Manhattan is loud in a busy, noisy, smelly way, and a person begins to look for quiet wherever she can find it. Identifying your favorite patch of grass in Central Park, ducking into that French bookstore to admire the constellations on the ceiling, or grabbing a dollar ice cream scoop from the Dominican shop on the corner, these all make for great meditation. My absolute favorite place in Manhattan, however, has to be the backstage hallway leading to the Appel Room. One of J@LC’s main stages, the Appel Room sets the band up with a glass backdrop that opens to a view to Columbus Circle in all its mayhem. As the band swings, taxis stream by and tiny people scurry across the crosswalk beneath. It was here that I spent my first weekend in the Concerts and Touring department.
Acting as a musician’s assistant, I got exposed to the behind-the-scenes world of making sure all the artists had water and towels and any other necessary commodity in order to ensure their best performance. The most important part of my time with Concerts and Touring was not the quick trips to Whole Foods to buy backstage snacks or the in-office historical work, but rather the opportunity to join in this “jazz family.” Every single person I met was so immediately ready to be a close friend and an ally. Even after the show ended, I would run into musicians on the subway and be greeted by a warm hug and a smile. A few of us even ended up at one of the free Concerts in the Parks programs, determined to hear greats such as McCoy Tyner in person. As we walked to the park, we saw the clouds getting darker but pushed onward anyhow. Even as the rain began to pour down, we laughed and grooved along to the musicians on stage. Afterwards, we wrung out our jackets on the subway and laughed together about the concert.
Photo: A life changing show by Christian McBride at the famous Blue Note jazz club.
The idea of the Jazz Family came out in full form one bright, Sunday afternoon as the JLCO gathered a crowd to remember the Great Joe Temperly. A stoically happy occasion, the JLCO and students of Mr. Temperly came together to share stories and treat everyone to a New Orleans-esque jam in honor of the late tenor saxophonist. Though the room was full of strangers, this music truly united everyone present. This is what J@LC exemplifies in their work every single day.
I am beyond grateful to the UMS and to Jazz at Lincoln Center for this internship opportunity. There are so many more stories that I would love to share about my time in New York City, but I can say one thing for sure: the level of inspiration and brotherhood that I experienced this summer can be experienced every time the JLCO hits the stage. They are a truly magical ensemble and organization.
This Spring, welcome back to Ann Arbor, JLCO, we are so excited to have you here.
See the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.