A Really Big (Band) Show
Emory's Jazz Fest offers hands-on learning and brand-new collaborations

By Lee Valentine Smith

Some jazz festivals sprawl across a big outdoor stage, offering a cool but decidedly distant look into the actual process of creation. Emory's Jazz Fest 2020 is a hands-on crash course in the myriad fundamentals of music and the intuitive magic of collaboration. Featuring saxophonist Bob Mintzer, a three-decade veteran of the Grammy Award-winning Yellowjackets, the event includes intimate and full-scale performances as well as two free masterclass jazz workshops.

Mintzer has been actively involved in every aspect of live concert performance, big band composition and the fundamentals of specific music education for many years. Since the '70s, he has teamed with an incredible roster of artists including Tito Puente, Buddy Rich, The New York Philharmonic, Art Blakey, Donald Fagan, Bobby McFerrin, Jaco Pastorius, Eumir Deodato and Randy Brecker. In addition to playing with The Yellowjackets, he leads his own quartet, a number of domestic big band projects and regularly conducts the WDR Big Band Orchestra in Germany. Currently, he teaches courses in jazz composition and saxophone in addition to directing the Thornton Jazz Orchestra at USC in Los Angeles.

As Artist In Residence at Emory, he'll perform ticketed shows with the Gary Motley Trio and the Emory Big Band as well as leading two enlightening jazz master classes, which are both free and open to the public. With able support from bassist and Chicago music scene stalwart Kenny Davis and India Arie's drummer/percussionist, Emrah Kotan, the entire run of enlightening events is a must for informed music fans and seriously dedicated musicians of all ages.
Music aficionados know Motley as a popular pianist, composer, arranger, and educator. The oft-lauded musician has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Composers Forum. He's been featured on National Public Radio and has worked extensively with a remarkable slate of artists including Dave Brubeck and Clark Terry. He also serves as Professor of Performance at Emory.

Recently INsite spoke with Mintzer from his home studio in California.

Musicians are often a bit protective about their technique but you seem open to sharing your knowledge.

I really love sharing information and in jazz music, this is how we learn. With collaboration, hanging out and talking with people who are a bit older than ourselves and just passing on the information. That's how I learned, I observed and then I asked questions. Then I'd go into the shed and try to work it all out. It's the best way to understand it all. When it comes right down to it, there are no real secrets to it. Your musicianship is contingent on your work ethic and your personality. You can show everything you know to someone but it comes down to the individual what they will do with it. The key is to take what you learn, improve on it and really call it your own. It basically translates into working really hard. If you work hard and put your own stamp on it, that increases the likelihood you'll have your own statement. You have to have that passion; you have to really want to do it. Then we can become chefs and take our own strengths and influences and mix them up in our own particular way.

Tell us a bit about the two master classes you're offering. The "master class" course title sounds imposing but the description sounds inclusive and immersive.

Well it really is a little bit of everything. It will cover a lot of ground because jazz covers so much. We'll touch on general musicianship. By that, I mean we'll include elements and styles of playing, writing, bandleading and even the skills of dealing with the music business. It's really all about anything related to playing, which obviously covers a lot of topics pertaining to the music.

On Friday night, you'll be joining Gary and his trio. Have you collaborated before?


No, this will be the first time we've ever played together. Then I'm playing with the big band on Saturday night [February 8]. I really love the big band format. I conduct a big band in Germany and I've been making my own big band records for years. That's a big part of what I do, including the writing and arrangement for the big band presentation. So I've sent a bunch of my arrangements down there for us to play.

As someone who enjoys passing the torch, it must be satisfying and energizing to see the college-age kids picking up on the classic big band style.

It's always so inspiring to me to see what the next generation is doing, no matter the style. First, because it's always bound to be a little different than what we expect or anticipate it will sound like but that's what makes it so good for everyone. Just by its very nature, it's always different than what my generation did before. And second, we're always on the lookout for the new cats, you know? So I enjoy it all for a whole number of reasons. Just to see them carry it on and then to find some new blood to play with and maybe we'll find some new compositions to play and develop. Personally, as an educator, I'm always looking for new and interested students to recruit to our program out in California. The music scene is a really nice club. It's a place where, as you participate, more and more activity seems to present itself. It can be in the form of ideas, or collaborations or just working on new possibilities. When you start to play, literally anything can happen. New ideas, new music, new collaborations. That's why I'm so excited to see what will happen from this weekend festival in Atlanta.

Emory's Jazz Fest 2020 runs from Thursday, February 6 through Saturday February 8 at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, visit schwartz.emory.edu, or call 404-727-5050.

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