I'm Baaaaaack ...
After a scary few months I am happy to report that I am pretty healthy and coming to a full recovery quite rapidly. It turns out that the bout of viral pneumonia could have happened to anyone. Although it was not related to any other perceived condition I may have, it was theorized that I had walking pneumonia since as early as September without even knowing. For the record, my lungs are clear, my heart is strong, blood pressure is perfect, my blood work is stellar and I am not on any medication whatsoever. I do carry around an oxygen meter just to keep a check on my levels. So far so good. I do recommend that everyone get one of these little things. They are called a "pulse oximeter" and only cost about $15. They are small device and clip onto your finger to take an immediate reading. Honestly if I had one of these days earlier I probably could have avoided a month in the hospital lying flat on my back.
So, I am ok. It’s time to regroup and get back on the bandwagon (as it were.) I do want to acknowledge all those who looked after me and cared for me and helped me stay alive. First of all, my beautiful wife Cathy was amazing throughout my whole ordeal. She really suffered the brunt of it all but she was there for me 24/7. I also have to credit the critical care facility at Red Bank’s Meridian Riverview Hospital. It is true what they say that a hospital is a terrible place to be if you are sick however, they did quite literally save my life. So I am grateful.
I also want to thank everyone who came to visit and who sent cards, flowers, and good wishes along the way. I am truly touched by it all. Special thanks go out to Liz Jeresi and Alan Abraham who managed to keep the Jazz Arts Academy going in my absence. They did a stellar job and I am tremendously grateful.
So now begins the hard work as far as our little organization is concerned. My challenges brought to light some issues that needed to be addressed as far as the commitment, governance, continuation and succession issues within Jazz Arts Project. I intend to Invite our donors friends and stake holders to some brainstorming meetings in order to create a kind of think-tank committee. Hopefully this will result in a sense of stability, longevity, more effective community engagement and a growth in terms of our programs and our outreach.
Here's to the parents!
A Letter to a parent:
One of the young talented students in our program, has been so totally consumed with music and so energized that it seems he has taken to finding out about every program and youth orchestra and opportunity that he can possibly join. Diego is quite an impressive young man and equally impressive is a family who offers such positive reinforcement and are so very supportive. Among the various conversations I have had with his father, I have come to recognize the nurturing and positive support he gives his son. when he wrote to me about Diego's recent accomplishments and awards I decided to offer my own thoughts and some bits of advice.
A proud and happy father wrote:
Guess who won Best Jazz Soloist in his School’s Nat’l Comp in “Music in the Parks” at Hershey Park?!? Diego won the “Best Solo Performer” in Jazz. His Jazz Ensemble took the top Prize and his Band took 2nd Place. He had some Flute Solos as well.
You and your Jazz Program changed everything when he started last Summer. I cannot thank you enough. Wish him luck at Julliard today!
And then the next day....
I wanted to take a couple of minutes to share what was an incredible 24-48 hrs. for Diego. As you know he, because of all the work you have done for him, won the Jazz Solo Award.
Many witnessed his initial disappointment where he thought he failed. Wrong!
Less than 24 Hours later he was in a Warm-up room at Julliard, competing against children from across the planet! When we entered there was another young man blasting away on his Flute. Man, this kid was good! I saw D started to get a little intimidated but he began to warm up. At one point they appeared to be battling! It was awesome to hear!He felt he performed well but wants to better control his nerves. (He said at one point he was shaking!) What results from Julliard is not important right now. I just wanted to share with you his experiences, and again express our gratitude. None of this was possible without all of you.
And here is what I wrote to him in return:
Thank you for including me in the news of your son and his progress, his successes and challenges, and the pursuit of his dreams. I am very impressed with this young man and also of you and the family support you provide.
Diego is experiencing what every musician goes through. The nervousness, the daunting sense of competition, and the self-doubt, are all challenges to be embraced along this journey. As a young man (perhaps in 8th grade or so) I myself can remember performing solo in front of about 100 people although I was terribly sick with a bad flu and 103 fever. I insisted to my parents that I had to show up and perform ...and so I did, scared to death that I would mess up or collapse, but I got through it and learned some important lessons along the way.
I have found that the more prepared one is, the less likely there is any reason to be nervous. To be that prepared is a long and lonely journey for sure. Ultimately it is a wonderfully rewarding one, but it is a journey nonetheless filled with much introspection, self-awareness and critical thinking. It is the mistakes that show us how to improve. It is the challenges we overcome now that give us confidence in the future. It is the commitment and passion that enables us to continue day after day.
Luis, here's to you and your family for giving Diego the opportunities to fulfill his dreams. I am reminded of a conversation that we had with Esperanza Spalding when we arranged for a visit with the Academy students a few years ago. I summed it up and wrote it down and have shared it with many of our students ever since...
I am sure Diego will continue to shine. We wish him all the success in the world and we are proud to have him in our program.
All the best,
Jazz Arts Academy Student To Perform at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Press-roll, rim-shot, swing! Ben Figuly sat behind the sparked, copper colored, Gretch Catalina Club professional drum set and laid down a swinging groove for the three consecutive nights. these were the Jazz Arts Academy summer camp showcase concerts in Red Bank NJ. The young musician recently turned 14, but by all accounts, plays with an ability and sensibility far beyond his years.
Ben, along with 17 of his peers, ages 13 – 17 from all around the region, participated in the summer session of the Jazz Arts Academy. This is a year-round program of the non-profit organization Jazz Arts Project in partnership with the Count Basie Theatre. They played classic jazz standards and learned about improvisation, ensemble playing, theory, and the history of jazz. Through his association with Jazz Arts Academy, Ben is fortunate to have some of the best internationally known world-class jazz artists as instructors and mentors. Alto saxophonist Bruce Williams, Hamond B3 specialist Radam Schwartz, and drummers Cecil Brooks III & Vince Ector have all played a hand in molding Ben’s emerging talent. This picture to the leftt shows Ben with famed drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie.
Soon after this experience Ben headed to Cleveland to play a concert at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. jazz, however, is Ben’s passion. It is what he listens to and what he aspires to play professionally later in life. In this case, he has taken the advice from his mentors: “play as often as you can, perform as many different kinds of music that you can and don’t turn down any opportunities at this stage of the game.”
This opportunity came when Ben was asked to join the teen classic rock/fusion group, Marel Hidalgo and the Stone Feathers. Marel, the band's 9-year-old lead guitar player, has been playing since he was 4, and has garnered much attention and national press. All of the current band members are young musicians, like Marel, and are from Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The band is fluid and ever-changing in terms of exploring genres and composing original music. They are spending the summer playing at festivals around NJ. This is Hidalgo’s second appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it will mark Ben’s first appearance with the band. After this he will have returned to his "Jazz Roots" for more experiences and training. Keep you eye on this young man. He is going places.