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Burke High School Becomes A Jazz Scene
4/20/2016 4:11:16 PM

(l-r) Mayor John J. Tecklenburg (piano), Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Oscar Micheaux (trumphet), Gus Allen (bass) and Amir Lee (alto sax) at the Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Program and Concert at Burke High School April 15, 2016. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali

(l-r) Charleston County School District’s Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait and vocalist Lisa Henry(c) and Charleston Mayor John J. Tecklenburg on piano sing and jam at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s program at Burke High School. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali

(l-r) Charleston County School District Fine Arts Learning Specialist Dr. Jim Braunreuther, Charleston Mayor John J. Tecklenburg and Dr. J.B. Dyas of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz pose for a photo before the Institute’s program at Burke High School. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali

Burke High School Principal Maurice Cannon addresses audience after last week’s Thelonious Monk Institute Program at his school. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali
By Hakim Abdul-Ali

Whenever you think of high schools in general you think of a place where education is administered in all sorts of instructive categories and formats. After all, that's what education in all of its unfolding ramifications is supposed to be about.

Well, that certainly was the case this past Friday, April 15, 2016, when Burke High School, a storied and historic Charleston inner city Lowcountry high school, became a host venue for a momentous educational musical happening. To say that "the joint," oops, I mean, high school was jumping would not do justice in describing such a wonderful presentation that occurred.

The Charleston County School District was one of five nationwide selected to be provided national Peer to Peer Jazz Education by the Thelonious Monk Institute's programmatic instruction on two days, April 14-15, 2016. The initial programmatic presentation on April 14 was held at The Charleston County School of the Arts in North Charleston, with the final presentation being held at Burke High School in Charleston the next day.

The almost two hour morning concert and workshop on the 15th, held in Burke High School's spacious and modern auditorium, was attended by several select and enthusiastic student groupings from four other invited local high schools, along with Burke's students, and several dignitaries including Charleston County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gerrita Postlewait and recently elected Charleston Mayor John J. Techlenburg.

The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, based in Los Angeles, California, named after the late jazz piano great Thelonious Monk, is a nonprofit educational organization established in 1986, offers musical education to aspiring, talented young musicians. Its stated mission and objective is to offer the world's most promising young musicians college level training by internationally acclaimed jazz masters and to present public school-based music education programs for young people around the world.

The audience at Burke High School was entertained in the concert segment by the institute's traveling High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Jazz Septet, made up of a sophomore, a junior and five senior high school students from Houston, Texas. They were Raven Moran, 16 (guitar), Sam Reid, 17 (piano), Jerome Gillespie, Jr., 17 (drums), Amir Lee, 17, (alto sax), Gus Allen, 17 (bass), and trumpeters Elijah Micheaux, 18 & Nelson Armstrong, 17. The teens are really, really talented up-and-coming jazz musicians in the making.

Their concert presentations were enhanced by the additions of musical professionals Dayna Stephens, on tenor sax, and vocalist Lisa Henry, a sister from Kansas City, who can definitely sing with the very best. Mr. Stephens has played with many of the current and past greats of jazz and presented master classes & jazz workshops at high schools and universities throughout the world. His latest 2014 Sunnyside recoding is "Peace."

The program was highlighted by Mayor Tecklenburg, a talented pianist in his own right, capability joining in on two of the septet's tunes. Labeled the "hippest" mayor in the country by Dr. J. B. Dyas, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz's Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development, Mayor Tecklenburg "got" down on the ivory as he exuberantly played with enthusiasm to the delight of the audience.

Not to be out done by the mayor's savior faire on piano, Ms. Henry, a magnificent crowd pleaser, invited the seated Superintendent Postlewait to join her in a spirited version of "I've Got the Blues." In good-natured fun and well-meaning spirit, the superintendent and Ms. Henry delighted the crowd with their off-the-cuff rendition.

Kudos to the superintendent for being a good sport in her part time singing gig. It was pure fun and aided in setting the continuing trend of what the program was about, which was to promote the importance of making things better in life through educational exposure and academic enhancement.

That point was further dramatized by Dr. Dyas in his programmatic opening "jazzy" introduction and later teaching presentation midway through the program emphasizing how jazz relates to the concept of democracy. Obviously, a committed musician and an innovative teacher, Dr. Dyas teaches life lessons through the symbiosis of musical expressions. It works.

Using the rhythm section ( piano, bass and drums), he taught the audience some of he key elements of this concept using the musical notes, measures and scales of Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness" to literally teach how jazz musicians have to work together through a tune, respecting each other's individual freedom and presence through harmony and improvisational concepts of working together while still doing his or her "own" solo thing.

The concert program ended with a question and answer session with the septet's youthful members fielding inquiries from the excited audience about how they played solo music in a jazz musical environment. Almost to the person, each member stated that he or she played with an individual sense of passionate feeling and intense expression, with nothing pre-arranged. "They play how they feel at that moment."

With about four hundred interested, well-mannered and energetic body of students in attendance at the program, Burke High School was fast becoming a an delightful and interesting jazz arena. This led to Burke High School's dynamic principal, Mr. Maurice Cannon, to comment on the program's good vibes and to encourage the students (and community) to support, advance and continue these types of happenings.

The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz's concert and program, in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts and United Airlines, truly was a happening, and Charleston was truly honored by its selection by the prestigious musical organization because our beloved city is truly a leader in more ways than one. "Our future lies in our youth." Never can tell, maybe, the very next future Thelonious Monk could be from the Lowcountry.

In closing, I do wish to thank the students from the various high schools, the staff at Burke High School and all others involved in this making educational program a total success, including Mayor Tecklenburg, Superintendent Postlewait, Principal Cannon and Dr. Dyas. They all deserve an applause from this reporter for making last Friday one that all concerned educational-minded community folk in the Lowcountry should be proud of because on that day "Burke High School Became a Jazz Scene."

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