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Musicans Teach Kids About Jazz, then Play the Real Thing for Healdsburg

For the 15th year, Operation Jazz Band brings musicians into the classroom of area fifth-graders - and ends with a concert at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts on Friday night.

If you’re kids come home from school this week and say, “I want to play saxophone!” Or maybe, “I want to be Dizzy Gillespie!”  or perhaps, “I want to sing like Clairdee!” then you know this must be the week for Operation Jazz Band in Healdsburg area schools.

Although the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has gained great notoriety regionally and even nationally, for Jessica Felix the education component of the non-profit she founded 15 years ago is equally important. “One of our prime purposes is to educate students about the living traditions of jazz culture in America,” said Felix. “We’ve been doing this as long as the Festival has been going, and the kids let us know it’s a success.”

Again this year the week-long program will feature musicians appearing in fifth grade classes for the first four days of the week, sharing their specialty with the kids. “The kids are excellent,” said percussionist Babatunde Lea, for the past several years leader of the Operation Jazz Band team.

“They’ve become our favorite age of kids, just before for they turn on you!” he said with a laugh. “They’re excited and interested, and they love to participate.”

As well as Babatunde Lea, musicians are saxophonist Howard Wiley, Geechi Taylor on trumpet, trombonist  Charles Hamilton, Frank Martin on keyboards and Jeff Chambers on bass, plus songstress Clairdee on vocals.

Beginning with percussion and continuing through rhythm, melody and vocals, every fifth grade student in the area learns about the history and fundamentals of jazz. The week concludes with a concert at the Raven Theater for all area fifth graders and their parents, usually held midday on Friday.

But it’s not a simplistic, introductory form of music the fifth graders hear at the Raven, but rather how it all comes together in a real jazz band. 

“We play for them on Friday like we’re playing Carnegie Hall,” said Lea. “We just play what we play. Kids need to be exposed to what real jazz is all about.”

No reason to be envious of the great music area fifth graders are experiencing this week – there’s a Jazz in the Gallery concert Friday evening at 7:30, featuring the same musicians that have played in the schools, except for Clairdee. The popular night club singer has another gig on Friday night.

But for the six musicians who will play at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts, it’s the “culminating event”  of their week in Healdsburg, Lea reports. “All the musicians love to do this, love to do their thing and get a chance to work with young people during the  week.

“Then for the last concert Friday night, they’ve bonded!” And the music reflects not just their bonding, but the best thing about Healdsburg Jazz – it’s for everybody.

Tickets for the Friday evening show at the HCA gallery, 130 Plaza St., are $25 for two sets, available online here.  Wine and desserts will be available before the performance and between sets.

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