Music education is a multi-layered process that demands both a student and teacher to always look to the next level, finding ways to keep musical enrichment growing. From a student perspective, the need for constant practice and individ...
Music education is a multi-layered process that demands both a student and teacher to always look to the next level, finding ways to keep musical enrichment growing. From a student perspective, the need for constant practice and individual study must be balanced with group rehearsal and self-refelction. This time with their mentors is invaluable, and it’s essential that they take advantage of every opportunity by being prepared. On the same token, educators have the task of finding new and challenging experiences for their students that will lead to a higher level of musicianship. Sometimes that job requires finding new repertoire, while other times, they need to discover original and impactful ways to make the nuts and bolts stick. When both a student and teacher hold up their end of the bargain and dig a little deeper into the musical process, magical things can happen.
The magic has been happening in the South Bay Area for several years now, as the Stanford Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble and their leader Murray Low continue to bring some of the top names in Latin Jazz into their process. As a teacher, Low brings a wealth of knowledge to the ensemble, drawing upon his vast professional experience with artists like Pete Escovedo, Wayne Wallace, and more. The SALJE students are extremely lucky to have Low as an instructor, for he brings even more than experience to the table. He has been programming a series of guest artist concerts over the years, so that each Spring, the studnets can gain additional insights into the music from a second professional. Veterans of the SALJE have had the opportunity to learn and perform with John Santos, Andrea Brachfeld, John Calloway, and more. The guest artist concers have bred a hard working ensemble that digs deeply into authentic experiences and produces very musical results.
This year, Low has brought yet another great musician into the ensemble for their Spring Concert, trumpet player Ray Vega. A well respected sideman and bandleader, Vega has spent time on the stage with Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, and many others. He appeared as a guest artist alongside a number of other musicians in the band during the 2010 concert, so this should be a good opportunity for him to dig in a little deeper with the students. In anticipation of this concert, I asked Low about his experiences with the ensemble, guest artists, and Vega in particular, getting the inside scoop of this fantastic educational experience.
LATIN JAZZ CORNER: You’ve had Ray Vega out to work with the ensemble as a guest artist in 2010; what inspired you to bring him back to work with the students a second time around?
MURRAY LOW: Ray was part of larger group of artists that I brought in simultaneously that winter, in a year in which I had received a special one-time Stanford Arts grant. This time around, he’ll be working with the band exclusively on his own. I had always wanted to bring him back out in a situation where he could play a larger role with my students. Three years later, the timing and logistics finally worked out for both of us.
Ray brings with him a great sense of the tradition of multiple idioms of music, while at the same time not being ‘bound’ by that tradition. He has instant credibility and respect because he has ‘lived’ the music and can speak to its roots in a first-hand manner. Additionally, he has solid academic acumen through his work at SUNY Purchase and now at the University of Vermont, whom we thank for allowing him to come out during the academic year.
Finally, his passion and earnestness about the music are infectious. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s worthy repeating.
LJC: It’s a pretty straight-ahead thing to teach students scales, chords, and rhythms, but there are also some intangible qualities in music that are more challenging – how do you think working with professionals taps into those less concrete aspects o