Tulsa Jam’Bassadors Chosen as Finalist for Mingus Foundation Competition
Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s All-City Band to Host Benefit February 2nd to Send Students to NYC
In its very first year to enter the national Charles Mingus High School Competition, the Tulsa Jam’bassadors All-City Band has rocketed into the finals. The 18 young musicians, chosen from several Tulsa public schools as well as from the charter Tulsa School of Arts & Sciences, are set to travel to New York City on the weekend of February 15th. There, they’ll play against two other finalists, the SFJazz High School All-Stars Orchestra from San Francisco, California and the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Big Band from New York, New York.
It’s the fifth year of the Mingus event, named for the trailblazing jazz composer, bandleader, and bassist.
“This is an amazing band,” says Jazz Hall of Fame CEO Jason McIntosh of the Jam’bassadors. “We assembled some of the best high school musicians from throughout the Tulsa Public School system and the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences. Working with music directors Doug Styers and TimShadley, we started in August and rehearsed throughout December, before turning in our recorded submission of three Mingus songs to the contest. There was incredible competition, but we were chosen as one of the three finalists in our big-band category.”
A total of 12 combos and big bands were selected from across the United States and Canada. The Jam’bassadors will compete as one of three finalists in the “Big Band — Specialized Schools and Programs” category.
“Out of all twelve, we’re the only school from the Midwest,” says co-director Shadley. “The closest to us is a conservatory in Milwaukee. Most of the bands are from the East and West Coasts.”
The Jam’bassadors, along with special guests, will perform the Saturday night fundraising show at the Jazz Depot. They will perform several Mingus compositions.
“The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is the key to all of this,” Shadley says. “There are only a few other places like it in the whole country, places that specialize in jazz education and outreach.Oklahomans are fortunate to have such resources and this musical treasure. The Mingus project is a great example of the leading role the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame plays in music education.”
CEO McIntosh has long been an advocate for strong music and arts programs in the school system. So, when McIntosh commenced this project to establish an all-city band he reached out to dedicated and like-minded educators, Styers and Shadley, and they were immediately on board.
“We decided to focus on Tulsa Public Schools, and we wanted to reach out to TSAS as well,” he says. “We started going to different schools and recruiting the students.”
Styers, the jazz chair for Tulsa Public Schools, joined Shadley as a director early in the fall semester, and before long they had the newly minted Jam’bassadors focused and rehearsing. And while some may be surprised at the band’s success in the competition its first time out, the founders are not.
“We have good young musicians to draw on in Tulsa, as well as outstanding band directors at Tulsa Public and TSAS,” McIntosh says. “Doug Styers and Tim Shadley have really been excellent in working with the band members, picking out the dedicated musicians.”
“The students are great. They’re listening to the music on their iPods, on their own, they’re putting in an amazing amount of rehearsal time. They’re committed. They have come together to make this happen,” Styers says.
“For most of the students, it was their first time to hear and play Mingus’ compositions,” adds McIntosh, “so it was all new and dynamic. We have some other dedicated musicians involved with our efforts. In addition to Doug and Jeff, Dr. Tommy Poole came in to instruct with the saxes, Nick Foster with the percussion, Jordan Hehl with the bass. There were a lot of the “older” musicians working with the kids – although ‘older,’ in this case, means musicians in their early to mid 20s.”
In addition to competing in New York, McIntosh adds, the members of the Jam’bassadors will be involved in several jazz workshops with other outstanding student musicians from across North America.
“Right out of the gate, we make the finals,” Shadley says. “I already feel like a winner. And one of the things I hope is that this will help us keep building a culture of jazz together in the schools.”
“I was talking to some of the kids a couple of days ago, and I said, `What if, in ten years, we’ve had bands going to the Mingus Competition, to New York, every year? How would it make you feel to know that you’d started the whole thing?’”
The Tulsa Jam’bassadors’ show is set to begin Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
McIntosh says that 100 percent of the money from admissions will go toward financing the band’s trip to the Mingus Competition finals. Donations above the ticket price will also be welcome.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomansthrough preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.