Operation Jazz BandMission Accomplished!

Today Operation Jazz Band finished their week in Healdsburg by playing in concert before all SIX fifth grade classes: Fitch Mountain Elementary, St. John School, Alexander Valley School, Geyserville School, Westside Elementary School, and Sonoma Country Day School! About 200 students in all filled the Raven Theater in Healdsburg to hear what Operation Jazz Band really sounded like.

During the past week Operation Jazz Band, led by Babatunde Lea, had broken down into the main sections of a jazz band: drums, rhythm, horns, and vocals. Those sections then visited all six schools to demonstrate their instruments, discuss the history of jazz, teach the different forms of jazz, and introduce the children to basic musical concepts. Criss-crossing the town every day, two teams of musicians in caravans dashed from one classroom to the next entertaining the kids and getting them introduced to their musical art form, the one true American musical art form: jazz.

This was the ninth year for Operation Jazz Band, sponsored by the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. This year Operation Jazz Band members were:

  • Babatunde Lea: band leader, drums, and percussion
  • Clairdee: vocals
  • Ken French: piano accompanist
  • Dave Bass: piano
  • Gary Brown: acoustic bass
  • Angela Wellman: trombone
  • Khalil Shaheed: trumpet
  • Richard Howell: saxophone

As mentioned, the musicians took to the stage as a full band all together to play for the children. The kids, having become acquainted with the musicians in the intimate settings of their classrooms, greeted them as they took to the stage with screams and raucous applause akin to the screaming teen girls meeting The Beatles at JFK!

All week long the musicians prepped the kids to not only listen to jazz, but to participate as well. Babatunde Lea took to the stage with his call-and-response chant in Yoruba (from Nigeria, and presented phonetically):

“Ah-go ee-lay ah-go! Ah-go ee-lay ah-go! Ah-go ee-lay ah-go YA! Ah-go ee-lay ah-go YA”

… all the while keeping the beat on a shekere. Then the band launched into an vibrant take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birk’s Works”:

Then the band brought the lovely Clairdee onstage to the roars from the kids, and she cooled the children down a notch with a wonderful version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”:

Highlights for the kids include audience participation; Dave Bass had taught the kids Ray Charles’ version of “Hit The Road Jack”, with boys and girls singing the parts appropriately! Clairdee got the whole audience singing “Let The Good Times Roll”, and then brought up a select group to join her in free-form scat:

With our culture in full gear to the future, our children often do not get introduced and familiar with so much of our cultural history such as art, music, and literature. Mainstream media focuses on the here and now, with radio pretty much focusing on the hear and now. Many kids only know about jazz as background music for car commercials or guys in Ray-Bans and berets. Operation Jazz Band is unique to Healdsburg, and to-date thousands of kids have been introduced to the musicians who perform jazz for a living, hear jazz from swing to Afro-Cuban to bebop, and come to understand that it is part of their musical heritage that they can embrace and enjoy.

Next Friday is the 11th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival Gala Dinner, Dance, and Auction at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa. This annual Gala raises money to fund Operation Jazz Band and other jazz education programs sponsored by the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. Please come, enjoy a wonderful dinner, dance to great jazz, and bid high and often – knowing your dollars will help our children know and appreciate jazz.