Jazz on the Green has elixir for money-strapped school music program
Published - 05/12/11 - 01:07 PM | 5320 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mission Bay High School students will take their music futures into their own hands during the inaugural Jazz on the Green to bolster the coffers of the school’s music program. 	Courtesy photo
Mission Bay High School students will take their music futures into their own hands during the inaugural Jazz on the Green to bolster the coffers of the school’s music program. Courtesy photo
While music in city schools is on the endangered list at many campuses, it continues to thrive at some schools thanks to an organized effort by teachers, students, parents and the community. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at Mission Bay High School (MBHS) and its jazz-centered music program under the direction of Jean-Paul Balmat.

On May 21, the high school will be the site of the inaugural Jazz on the Green concert, featuring sets from the MBHS Concert Jazz Band, MBHS Jazz Ensemble and MBHS Dixie Jazz Band, with a closing performance from the Rey Vinole Swing Band. In addition to the bands, there will be food on offer from Leilani’s Café, as well as a roving barbershop quartet and swing-dance lessons.

Activities for children include face painting and a bounce house.

Balmat, a former MBHS student who has been the school’s music director for five years and is organizing the event, cites the popular annual Concerts on the Green series at Kate Sessions Park as an inspiration.

“I’d see the concerts there, so I wanted to bring in our own little concert on the green,” he said. “Since we’re primarily a jazz program at the school, I wanted to make it a jazz festival that was family-based and community-based.”

He said the campus is an ideal location for what he hopes will be the first of many such events.

“The weather in Pacific Beach has always been amazing and we have a great central location at MBHS in our little quad grassy area with some of the most beautiful trees on campus,” he said.

Though the concert will focus on jazz, Balmat said that genre tag covers a wide musical spectrum.

“We have two groups that are swing bands — that’s the music out of America’s 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “Meanwhile, our top ensemble is the Dixie jazz band — that’s what the school is most well known for. They focus on the traditional jazz that came out of New Orleans around 1910. We tend to focus on that, but we play a lot of music that’s inspired by funk, Latin jazz and rock. There’s a lot of fusion elements that go in.”

He said he encourages his students to bring the aspects of music that they enjoy outside of jazz into their playing.

“It’s a very open environment,” Balmat said. “We’re constantly trying to evolve what we’re doing. we understand the tradition, but we never want to stay in the same place. We want to keep the music growing.”

While all of the ensembles performing are talented, the afternoon’s highlight will clearly be the closing set from retired MBHS music director and trumpeter Vinole, who founded the school’s jazz ensembles three decades ago. His performance will feature MBHS alumni; fellow trumpeter Brad Steinway and guitarist Joey Carano, best known for a stint with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.

All the proceeds from Jazz on the Green will go to help build the music program at MBHS.

“It’s really important that we have these funds so that we can support the musicians that are coming up through the elementary and middle schools,” Balmat said. “Right now, we’re running really low on instruments. About 95 percent of students are renting them from the school at no cost. So what happens when our program gets more popular and we have more kids? We need to be able to serve that population.”

Balmat said he is happy that life has brought him full circle.

“I had Mr. Vinole as a teacher for two years before he retired,” Balmat said. “He directly inspired me to become a music teacher.”

He said he’s also thrilled to be back where he first explored music.

“I’m a local guy. I grew up in Pacific Beach, so it feels like I’m coming home every day that I go to work,” Balmat said. “I really became inspired in that band room, so for me to be able to come back every single day and train the next generation of musicians feels great. I tell my students I lucked out. I got everything that I wanted and so far it’s been working out really well.”

Jazz on the Green: 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 at Mission Bay High School, 2475 Grand Ave. All ages. $10 for adults, $5 for students and children; www.missionbay music.com.
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