I have often wondered why educators are so darn excited about Google. They get “Google Certified,” attend Google conference sessions, mourn when features change or Google loses interest in a platform they LOVE(d). Google loving teachers attend summits that are a cross between an Amway convention and cult meeting. Districts trust their communications and document storage to a company they know harvests their data (and that of their students) just to save a few bucks on an email server. School leaders have never met Mr. Google or any of his designees, but trust them anyway.

Millions upon millions upon millions of dollars are spent annually on teaching seemingly competent adult educators to in the words of President George W. Bush, “use the Google.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Google is a swell thing. You type something into a box and related web pages are displayed – just like the search engines that came before it. Google PhotoScan is a little piece of magic for rescuing and preserving family photos. We trust Google a lot and have become reliant on a faceless corporation who can change the terms of service or kill a platform we rely on at the drop of a hat.

One of my favorite tweets of all time was when I asked, “Which should I care less about, Google Wave or Google Buzz?” It turns out that I hit the exacta when Google quickly took both Wave and Buzz behind the barn and shot them Gangnam Style. I get the sense that Google operates like libertarian toddlers who just finished a jumbo box of Lucky Charms cereal right before their community theatre performance of Lord of the Flies.

Mad at me yet? No? OK. Good. Let’s move on.

The one Google thingy that schools really love is Google Docs. Boy, do they love Google Docs.

I have long wondered why? We have had word processors for thirty-five years. Most computers come with a free one adequate for most school applications and there are certainly better “Office” suites available. Many schools already own them.

So, why oh why the love affair with Google Docs? I offer a few hypotheses.

Here are the Top Three Reasons Why Schools Love Google Docs. [Drum roll please…]

  1. Google is cool. The Googleplex has vegan cafeterias, free dry cleaning, massage chairs, AND Ping-Pong tables. I wish our teacher’s lounge had a Pachinko machine and an assortment of herbal teas. That would make me cool too!
  1. Nuthin’ cheaper than free

and the number one answer why schools love Google Docs is….

  1. Collaboration!!!!!!

Collaboration is nice. Schools like nice. Being collaborative is what nice people do when they want to create nice things.

We have been here before

In the late 1980s, collaboration was all of the rage, but back then it was called cooperative learning. Cooperative learning. A school district sent me to a Robert Slavin Cooperative Learning Boot Camp run by Johns Hopkins University. Like any good boot camp, its intent was to beat us down and build us back up again as champions of cooperative learning. Colleagues were immediately separated so they could not question the dogma or rebel in any way. We learned to “jigsaw” boring and irrelevant curricula.

We were taught to create student teams of four kids; always four kids. The teams should be comprised of a smart kid, a dumb kid, a girl, a boy, a Black kid, a White kid, a skinny kid, a fat kid… Each team should stay together with their desks side-by-side for six weeks, always six weeks. If we did this, spelling test scores would improve.

Of course, during that prehistoric era, Google engineers were not even old enough to disrupt their own Waldorf schools. So, sadly there were no Google Docs to create multiplication flash cards or use all of our vocabulary words in a sentence. The word-processed five-paragraph essay in the cloud would have to wait.

TRIGGER WARNING!

Since 90% of what schools do is Language Arts and 98% of what they do with computers is language arts[1], Google Docs is mostly used for writing, but its secret power is collaborative writing.

I am a professional writer. (Not that you can tell from this essay) I am the author of hundreds of magazine articles, about as many blog posts (yeah, big whoop), a 450,000 word doctoral dissertation, countless academic papers, and co-authored one of the best-selling books about educational technology.

All of this qualifies me to say something heretical. (IMHO)

Writing is not collaborative!

(Please take a deep breath before declaring me a big meanie poo-poo head.)

You may write different parts of something and smush them together. You may peer-edit. You may create an anthology or periodical containing writing by several people, but writing is a solo sport. Writing is the result of one person’s internal processes.

Collaboration is more than simply the division of labor. It should not be taught as an isolated skill or coerced. Sadly, like many seemingly good ideas, schools seek to mechanize collaboration by turning natural process into a set of measurable skills and multi-year course of study, easily assessed. Some children win, while others fail.

Teams are created by teachers drawing Popsicle sticks with kids’ names written on them (until the teacher doesn’t like a random pairing and “fixes” it.) Students sense the capricious nature of this process and waste precious class time working the refs to get assigned teammates they like. Working with people with whom you are compatible is a logical idea frequently squelched by school “collaboration.”

Back in the halcyon days of Cooperative Learning™, a reporter for the long-defunct Electronic Learning Magazine asked Seymour Papert an intentionally softball question, “What do you think of Cooperative Learning?” Papert replied, “I think it is a profoundly bad idea to force children to work together.”

Oooh! Snap!

Collaboration should be natural

Cooperation and collaboration are natural processes. Such skills are useful when the creative process benefits from interdependence. The best collaboration mirrors democracy when individual talents, knowledge, or experiences are contributed to produce something larger than the sum of its parts.
Work with your friends. Work with people you trust. Work with people who have different skills or expertise. If that doesn’t produce the result you desire, you will find others to collaborate with. That is how you learn to collaborate. You may teach it, but the students will not stay taught.

Honestly, I could not care less about whom my students (kids or adults) choose to work with. The only reason to assign group size is scarcity of materials (we have to share). Even in those largely avoidable scenarios, it hardly matters if group size varies a bit. The main consideration is inactivity by some members when a group is too large.

Collaboration is both selfish and selfless. You give of yourself by sharing your talent and expertise, but the collaboration should benefit you as well.

Collaboration should be fluid

One of the great joys of Constructing Modern Knowledge derives from the range of collaboration on display at my annual institute. At the start, participating educators suggest a vast array of project ideas ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Participants identify which project they wish to work on and commence collaboration. If a person loses interest, becomes inspired by another project, or is incompatible with a teammate, they are free to join a different project or start a new one. Some people move effortlessly between multiple project teams; learning even more.

When projects are shared at the end of four days, three to five person teams have created the majority of projects, some may have a dozen or more collaborators, and we often discover delightful projects created by someone who quietly sat in the corner and worked alone.

I have been fortunate to learn a great deal about what I know about learning from some of the world’s best jazz musicians. Those who are expert at what they do, like musicians, artists, and scientists, pursue greatness by working tirelessly on what bugs them. That continuous and indefinite attention to detail makes them incredibly good at articulating how it is that they do what they do. In other words, they are great teachers.

The very fine jazz pianist and educator Peter Martin recently interviewed saxophonist Branford Marsalis and vocalist Kurt Elling about their remarkable collaboration, “Upward Spiral” (recording and tour). Marsalis and Elling are both highly accomplished A-list artists with their own working bands and artistic concepts. Yet, they have decided to spend a couple of years putting “their thing” on hold to create something new, wondrous and collaborative in the best, most natural, sense of the word. The music they create together on stage is transcendent and not to be missed.

During Peter Martin’s podcast, my old friend Branford Marsalis shares his profound concept of collaboration and juxtaposes it against the version so often practiced in schools. There is much to be learned here.

“The whole idea of a collaboration (to me) is that nobody gets to do what is that they do. The modern interpretation of collaboration is I know what you do. You do know what I do. Let’s get a head start and run real fast and collide into one another and whatever spills out over the side is the collaboration.” – Branford Marsalis

True collaboration is great. It’s even better than a free word processor.


Notes:
[1] I pulled those figures out of my bum, but I have been doing so for decades and no one has been able to disprove this completely fabricated assertion.



Gary Stager is the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute for educators July 11-14, 2017, coauthor of Invent To Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, and curator of the Seymour Papert archive site, DailyPapert.com.

Register today for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2017!
Tod Machover, me, Marvin Minsky

Tod Machover, me, Marvin Minsky at the MIT Media Lab 2013

I’m truly excited to be flying to Boston next week to participate in an amazing MIT event, “Deconstructing Beethoven’s Improvisations,” based on Marvin Minsky’s legendary paper, Music, Mind, and Meaning , and his love of Beethoven’s improvisations. A whole bunch of the world renowned pianists, musicologists, and scientists are on the 12+ hour program.

Some of you may not know that I studied music intensely through my mid-20s. I had four years of music theory in high school, studied music at Berklee College of Music, Rutgers, and William Paterson College, plus arranging with the great Frank Foster, Chico Mendoza, Andy Jaffe, and John Stubblefield. I “get” improvisation as an avid jazz fan who once aspired to be a professional jazz musician (before my considerable lack of talent caught up with me)

That said, my knowledge of Beethoven is infinitesimal and my music analysis skills are quite rusty. I’m really looking forward to burning up some brain cells at this event.

I’m busy downloading the pre-homework for the event and will be doing some serious cramming of the following materials suggested by the event organizers.

SUGGESTIONS FROM OUR PRESENTERS

Jonathan Biss

  • Listen: Beethoven Fantasy, op. 77, Serkin Recording – YouTube
  • Listen: Beethoven Fantasy, op. 77, Schnabel Recording – YouTube

“The Serkin and Schnabel recordings are both excellent. Probably as close to Beethoven’s actual improvisations as anything we have on paper.”

Robert Levin

Marvin Minsky

  • Read: “Music, Mind, and Meaning” – website version
  • Watch: Marvin with Hockenberry for the Media Lab h2.0 conference, 5 min – view or download video
  • Listen: Marvin Minsky BBC Radio interview about Beethoven’s 9th, 20 min – listen to MP3
  • Listen: Marvin Minsky,Nursery Rhyme Suite, 1960’s, recently digitized from reel-to-reel collection – download MP3

Stephen Prutsman

Listen: Shadows, by Stephen Prutsman, 9 min – listen to MP3

Frederic Rzewski

Listen: Hammerklavier Sonata – YouTube

Jan Swafford

Read: Ludwig Rules: A Guide for Studying Beethoven, by Jan Swafford – PDF

SUGGESTIONS FROM OUR HOSTS

Tod Machover

Jonathan Berger

  • Read: Composing Your Thoughts web article
  • Read: Listener Correlation PDF
  • “All deeply influenced and inspired by Marvin”
  • Listen:Visitations website

As many of you know, I once studied to be a jazz musician. Although I came to grips with my profound lack of talent in my twenties, I am fortunate enough to have great friends who are among the world’s finest jazz musicians. Jazz remains one of the great joys of my life.

My friend Brian Lynch is not your average trumpet player. His trumpet playing facility and compositional skills are unrivaled. He is also curious, disciplined and a very find professor at the University of Miami. Brian has enjoyed long tenures in the bands of Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Phil Woods, Eddie Palmieri and countless other musical greats.

One of the most exciting experiences of my life was being in the recording studio (owned by Tony Bennett) while Brian rehearsed and recorded the groundbreaking CD, Simpático with 9-time Grammy Award winning Latin music giant, Eddie Palmieri, legendary jazz saxophonist Phil Woods and many of today’s finest jazz/latin jazz artists. Brian was gracious to give me an album credit for Videography, Web Photos and New Media Consultant. (you can see two of the videos I created in 2005 at the bottom of this post)

However, the greatest day of my life was when I put on my fancy clothes to attend the 2006 Grammy Awards where Brian won the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year and thanked me from the stage! I never screamed so hard or felt as much joy for another person than when I heard his name read as the winner. Seconds later Sylvia and I  were whisked away with the rest of Brian’s entourage to run the media gauntlet  before the televised Grammy spectacular and after-party. While waiting with Brian to do press interviews, we were positioned between Al Jarreau and Ruby Dee!

At the Grammys (real cameras were prohibited)

Brian initially released his self-produced and Internet-distributed recording via the pioneering Artistshare Web platform, where fans not only help finance the production, but participate in the creative process. The recording brings together musical elder statesmen, Eddie Palmieri and Phil Woods in a genre defying gumbo of jazz and latin rhythms. If you don’t know anything about music, Phil Woods improvised the iconic saxophone solo on Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are, in one take. Brian, Eddie and Phil Woods were joined by the phenomenal Mexican American vocalist, Lila Downs, on two tracks and were supported by many of the best musicians of today.

The recording, engineering and mastering was done with great care and precision. This is a fantastic sounding album you will want to listen to for years to come and it is finally available for digital download in an extended version with extra tracks and PDF liner notes from Amazon.com, iTunes and Bandcamp.

Please check out this CD, you won’t regret it!

Buy the music via digital download!

The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project Simpático
2006 Grammy© Award Winner, Best Latin Jazz Album
credits
COLLECTIVE PERSONNEL
Brian Lynch – trumpet
Eddie Palmieri – piano
Lila Downs – voice
Phil Woods – alto saxophone
Donald Harrison – alto saxophone
Yosvany Terry – alto saxophone
Gregory Tardy – tenor saxophone, clarinet
Conrad Herwig – trombone
Mario Rivera – baritone sax
Edsel Gomez – piano, organ
Boris Kozlov – acoustic bass
Ruben Rodriguez – baby bass
Luques Curtis – acoustic bass
Giovanni Hidalgo – congas
Pedro Martinez – congas, bongo, campaña, coro
Little Johnny Rivero – bongo, campaña
Dafnis Prieto – drums
Robby Ameen – drums
Marvin Diz – timbales
Pete Rodriguez – maracas, guiro
Adam Rogers – acoustic guitar
Joe Fielder – additional trombone

Musical direction and all arrangements by Brian Lynch

Recorded at Bennett Studios, Englewood, NJ on Nov. 23, 25, 26, Dec. 5, 2005
Engineer: David Darlington
Additional Recording at Bass Hit Studios, New York, NY
Mixed by David Darlington and Brian Lynch at Bass Hit Studios, New York, NY with assistance from Tom Dambly and Roger Townsend
Mastering: Tom Carr at The Annex, Menlo Park, CA
Produced by Brian Lynch
Production Assistance, Web Photos and Pro Tools: Tom Dambly
Principal Photography: Nick Ruechel
Videography, Web Photos and New Media Consultant: Gary Stager
Design: Christian Ericson

Executive Producer Participant: Roger Townsend
Gold Participants: Peter Straub, Jo Daley
Bronze Participants: Rafael Hernandez, Bryan Davis, Fred & Meg Lynch, Philip Tauber

Brian Lynch’s Horns: Yamaha 8310Z trumpet, Monette 993 trumpet (Que Sería La Vida, Tema Para Marissa)
Brian Lynch, Eddie Palmieri, and Phil Woods are Yamaha performing artists
Trumpet mouthpieces by Monette
Brian’s hats by Kelly Christy
Lila Downs courtesy of Narada Productions
Giovanni Hidalgo, Pedro Martinez, and Johnny Rivero are LP artists

I’m heading to Washington D.C. to cheer on my young pal, the gifted 21 year-old pianist Emmett Cohen, compete as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Pianist Competition. The Monk Competition is a very big deal. It’s like the Olympics for jazz musicians.

Emmet is a very fine musician. You should check out his Emmet’s first CD, In the Element – available from Amazon.com and iTunes. Keep your eyes on this young man. He’s going to be something special!

Emmet and each of his competitors will be accompanied by one of my oldest friends, Carl Allen on drums and Rodney Whittaker on bass. Carl is not only one of the world’s most accomplished musicians, he is also an amazing educator currently serving as the Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at the Julliard School. Carl has participated in the Monk Competition for many years.

Emmet Cohen, the Great Roy Haynes, Gary Stager

Not only will Emmet be accompanied by world-class musicians and competing against the best jazz pianists of his generation, but the judges are some of the world’s greatest pianists – Herbie Hancock, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Moran, Danilo Perez and Renee Rosnes!

That all occurs on Sunday. Monday evening, the winners are announced at a gala concert featuring dozens of the world’s greatest jazz musicians, past Monk competition winners and Aretha Franklin! Check out the musicians scheduled to perform!

Piano
John Beasley
Gerald Clayton
Bill Cunliffe
Herbie Hancock
Eric Lewis
Ellis Marsalis
Jason Moran
Danilo Perez
Renee Rosnes
Ted Rosenthal
Helen Sung
Jacky Terrasson

Organ
Joey DeFrancesco

Bass
Ron Carter
Daryl Hall
Christian McBride
John Patitucci
Joe Sanders
Rodney Whitaker
Ben Williams

Drums
Carl Allen
Ronald Bruner
Terri Lyne Carrington
Sebastiaan DeKrom
TS Monk
Harold Summey

Saxophone
Seamus Blake
John Ellis
Jon Gordon
Jimmy Heath
Jon Irabagon
Godwin Louis
Joe Lovano
Wayne Shorter
Walter Smith

Trumpet
Ambrose Akinmusire
Terence Blanchard
Diego Urcola

Guitar
Kevin Eubanks
Lionel Loueke
Lage Lund
Jesse Van Ruller

Trombone
Andre Hayward

Vocal
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Kurt Elling
Aretha Franklin
Roberta Gambarini
Sara Lazarus
Cecile McLorin Salvant
Jane Monheit
Gretchen Parlato
Dianne Reeves

Percussion
Sean Thomas

Vibes
James Westfall

Snooky Young at UCLA © 2006 Gary Stager

Eugene “Snooky” Young was one of the baddest jazz and studio trumpet players who ever lived. He passed away last week at the age of 93.

I had the privilege of seeing him perform live several times with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and Gerald Wilson’s Big Band. He was still performing on the trumpet at 92 years-old!

Back in May 2006, when Snooky was a spry 88, I caught him at UCLA playing with his 89 year-old friend, Gerald Wilson‘s big band and snapped the first two photos on this page.

I was so pleased with the photo of I snapped of Mr. Young looking so dapper backstage that I emailed it to my friend, the brilliant professional photographer, Nick Ruechel. (check out some of his remarkable jazz portraits here, here and here) A few months later, Nick was hired by Jazz Times Magazine to photograph Snooky Young for this article. He surprised Mr. Young by asking him to wear the shoes, hat and clothes Nick had seen in my amateur photo. I am quite humbled by the result below.

Snooky Young by Nick Ruechel © Jazz Times

From Wikipedia

Young was lead trumpeter of the Jimmie Lunceford band from 1939 to 1942. He played with Count Basie (three stints totalling eight years) and Lionel Hampton, among others, and was an original member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band.[1]

His longest engagement was with NBC, where, as a studio trumpeter, he joined the Tonight Show Band in 1967 and stayed with them until 1992, when the band was replaced by a new, smaller group.
He was also part of the touring ensemble that traveled with Doc Severinsen, performing live concert dates, corporate events, and headling shows in the main rooms of Las Vegas. The one nighters usually occurred on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays, as Doc was committed to the Tonight Show weeknights.
For the Las Vegas gigs, the nucleus of Doc’s touring band (Snooky, Conductor Steve Thoma, and drummer Paul Line) would commute to Vegas nightly, leaving Van Nuys airport around 6:00pm via Lear Jet, arriving in Las Vegas by 7:00. A limousine would transport the musicians directly backstage, where they would dress & prepare for an 8:00 pm & midnight show. Then back to the airport for the ride back to Los Angeles, where Doc & Snooky had their NBC gig, and Steve & Paul where doing studio sessions daily.

Snooky Young & Gerald Wilson at UCLA ©2006 Gary Stager


(Snooky solos about 2 1/2 minutes in)


(Snooky on left at 3:44)

Snooky Young tearing it up with Doc Severinsen on the Tonight Show


Snooky with a killer edition of Count Basie’s Big Band (fabulous solo by Thad Jones)

See and hear Snooky Young play at last year’s Playboy Jazz Festival (bootleg) at the age of 92!

A friend of mine just asked Facebook friends what they’re reading. Here is my current list if you don’t included the other thousand or so books awaiting my attention…

  1. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Experience (a biography of one of the great educators of the 20th Century)
  2. The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing (a gorgeous book and DVD about the remarkable life and musical wisdom of Quincy Jones)
  3. Raising a School: Foundations for School Architecture (a spectacular book about all aspects of creating productive contexts for learning by a colleague of Seymour Papert, Dr. Rena Upitis)
  4. David Susskind: A Televised Life (a fine autobiography of one of my boyhood heroes)
  5. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (perhaps the most comprehensive jazz autobiography ever about one of the most complex musicians who ever lived)
  6. I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath (I have been fortunate to spend some time with this amazing musician over the years.)
  7. Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians (there is much to learn about learning and performance from comedians)
  8. The Improvising Mind: Cognition and Creativity in the Musical Moment (as soon as I can afford it – highly recommended by my friend, the great Brian Lynch)

I’m also revisiting more than a dozen books by the amazing Seymour Sarason and Seymour Papert‘s three books on learning and computing.

I’ve been asked occasionally to name my ten favorite jazz CDs. This is not necessarily the most important recordings, but my favorites.

  1. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
  2. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Buhaina’s Delight
  3. Bobby Hutcherson – In the Vanguard
  4. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
  5. Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra – New Life (I know I should say, “Consummation.” – cheaper too)
  6. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else
  7. Sarah Vaughan – Crazy and Mixed Up
  8. Dexter Gordon – Gettin’ Around (or Homecoming)
  9. Thelonious Monk – Live at the It Club
  10. Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil

Classical entry – Takacs Quartet – Borodin – Smetna

Pop entry = Luther Vandross – The Best of Love OR Stevie Wonder – Natural Wonder

I know it outrageous that I didn’t include anything by Miles Davis (he’s on the Cannonball album above) or my current favorite musician, Dianne Reeves.

2007 Grammy Award Winner!
iraqi election
Gary was the new media producer for this groundbreaking Grammy Award-winning music project

Author’s note: As a response to the bile being directed at teachers by President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and NBC News’ Education Nation, I’ve decided to publish a series of articles I wrote celebrating great educators in my life. I encourage others to make the world a better place by sharing stories of great teaching. (use the hashtag = greatteaching)

Rocco Patierno & George Hicswa - July 2010

The challenge of telling one school story is a formidable one. I have so many to share. My colleagues urged me to tell the stories of the felonious teachers who taught from lawn chairs, led ethnic relay races and committed other hideous crimes against children. I could also tell the story of learning to love computing in the 70s because of imaginative trusting educators. Hopefully, I will have such opportunities in the future. This is the tale of music teachers who brought beauty, humor and a sense of place to my life.

Back in the 1970s, the Wayne, NJ Public Schools offered me the opportunity to fall in love with music and pursue it with abandon under the tutelage of spectacular teachers, Bob Simpson, Rocco Patierno, Ted Anderson, George Hicswa and Dick Lukas. Our fluid relationships flowed

from teacher-student, teacher-teacher, friend-friend to fellow artists creating together. My high school supported my desire to take four years of music theory and four years of performance classes (nine in all) without missing a single “important” academic course.

Midway through high school, George Hicswa, a professional jazz musician, achieved his goal of offering a daily Jazz Improvisation course. The class would be concerned with jazz theory, history and performance. Few universities at the time offered such a class. This was the perfect venue for a man of Mr Hicswa’s considerable idiosyncrasies, humor and talent as a musician. This class was quite comparable to the Brazilian Samba School Seymour Papert describes in Mindstorms, as an optimal environment for productive learning.

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The thing that strikes me today is how the course was so learner-centered. I remember the excitement of calling classmates on Sunday night to plan which records we should bring in to analyze on Monday and Tuesday. At the time we joked that Mr. Hicswa was lazy and that we were teaching his class. I now understand that a great teacher connects his/her wisdom and experience with the interests of students. We always felt that there was great gravity to the work we were doing in this class. After all, we were studying an American art form not taught in American schools. This was a music of the blues – of the struggle for civil rights, being performed reverently by white kids from the suburbs.

The course epitomized an interdisciplinary curriculum making connections between history, musical performance and the mathematics used to learn improvisation. It was a multi-age class you could take for credit year after year. How could that be possible? Because there was always something to learn and new ways to grow. A strong community of practice existed in which we could learn by “playing” together.

I remember the shock on the faces of judges as we took the stage for a jazz competition (one of those obscene oxymorons invented by schools). We would follow paramilitary “stage bands” wearing white platform suits and zoot suits as they faithfully recreated “In the Mood.” The stage band is a musical amalgamation with no analog outside of school.

Our small jazz combo would be garbed in dashikis, kimonos and “bebop helmets.” I once performed on gong. Our repertoire consisted of works by Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, John Coltrane and student composers. We honored ourselves and our musical heroes by sharing our individuality through collective improvisation.

It was never clear if Mr. Hicswa liked teaching or even liked children. What he loved were musicians – even people trying to become musicians. He created an environment in which personal growth was possible. For that I will always be grateful.


©1999 Gary S. Stager
From Curriculum Administrator Magazine — June 1999

Occasionally, a friend asks me to name my all-time favorite jazz CDs. That’s extremely difficult to do, especially since I own more than 1,500 of them.

Here is my Desert Island List of My Top Ten Jazz CDs of all-time. It is quite absurd that there are no CDs by Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Harold Mabern, Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan, Betty Carter, Charles Tolliver, Kenny Dorham, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Billy Higgins, Jackie Mclean, Hank Jones, Barry Harris, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Barron, Lester Bowie, Duke Ellington, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Phil Woods, Count Basie, Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Heath or many others on the list. Many of these folks perform on the recordings listed below.

There is also no room for my current favorite musician Dianne Reeves (every one of her albums is a gem); my brilliant pals, Brian Lynch, Carl Allen or Branford Marsalis or my all-time hero Roy Haynes in the top ten.

Branford Marsalis’ recent album, Metamorphosen, will surely be remembered as one of the great recordings and bands of the early 21st Century.Simpatico

I was beyond honored to work on Brian Lynch’s project with Eddie Palmieri, Simpatico, which won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. This record gets better with each listening.

Gary Stager’s Top 10 Favorite Jazz CDs (in no particular order)

Classical entry – Takacs Quartet – Borodin – Smetna

Pop entry = Luther Vandross – The Best of Love OR Stevie Wonder – Natural Wonder

Al Green should be on this list too!

Someday, I will list more and assemble a gallery of the photos of me and the great jazz musicians I’ve met over nearly 30 years.

This is probably my favorite week of the year. Tuesday I’ll be reporting from MacWorld in San Francisco and then I fly to New York to spend the rest of the week at the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference (IAJE).

Both events amplify the ingenuity, creativity and improvisation that America presents to the world. As a twenty-one year Macintosh owner, MacWorld is like Christmas. Steve Jobs excites the faithful with announcements of exciting new products and then I spend the rest of the day wandering the exhibit hall looking for gadgets I can’t possible live without. In past years I’ve found products I can’t live without, including Delicious Monster Library, PDFPen, ProSoft Engineering’s lifesaving data backup and recovery utilities, my indispensable Boombag (luggage with a mixer, amplifier and speakers in the case) and a bunch of MIDI instruments I promise to use someday. I’ve learned my lesson and will not run six blocks to the San Francisco Apple Store to purchase the (rumored) new iLife ’07 and iWork ’07 software. The store employees tend to be surly and know nothing about what was just announced at MacWorld. Worst of all, they may not have inventory.

Apple is hinting at major announcements to coincide with their thirtieth anniversary. So stay tuned…

Steve Jobs at 2006 MacWorld

I “plan” to blog from the Steve Jobs keynote Tuesday morning (10 AM Pacific). Check back here to learn about the exciting new products announced at MacWorld. Rumors suggest that the Apple phone, iTV media device and new iWork & iLife software will be announced this week. Many of these products have implications for K-12 education. I’ll let you know about the coolest stuff I see on the show floor as well.

Steve Jobs’ evangelical performance is just a warm-up for four days of world-class concerts and master classes by many of the world’s finest jazz musicians at the IAJE Conference. The conference program features sessions from 9 AM with the last session starting at 1 AM!

Colleagues from 10 – 80
Dozens and dozens of professional musicians donate their time to perform at IAJE, often as guest soloists with student ensembles from around the world. Educators and students are able to learn from and with their musical heroes in both formal and informal settings. Imagine a conference where more than 3,000 of educators, artists and children learn together with no discussions of standardized testing or how their principal is a jerk.

One of the highlights of IAJE is the annual Jazz Masters Award presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. A gala concert features great performances and vignettes highlighting the contributions to culture made by seven artists. Dozens of past recipients representing the living history of American music attend to welcome the new inductees. It’s a rare treat to witness the camaraderie displayed among the living legends.

nea jazz masters
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Living NEA Jazz Masters Pose for Family Portrait at IAJE 2006

Last year’s NEA Jazz Masters Inductees included Chick Coea,, Freddie Hubbard, Ray Baretto, Buddy DeFranco, Bob Brookmeyer and Tony Bennett. As the evening concert drew to a close the great trumpet player, Jon Faddis, invited the assembled jazz masters to sit in and play with the assembled all-star big band. Chick Corea, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath and Paquito D’Rivera took the stage to solo on Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump.”

As the band began to play I noticed something extraordinary. A little kid, actually 10 years-old with a trumpet in-hand was struggling to climb up on the stage. Jon Faddis looked down at this kid standing next to him and asked, “Are you a jazz master?” The kid replied, “What key is this in?”

Faddis shook his head and continued leading the big band. Once Paquito D’Rivera finished his solo, Faddis gestured towards the little boy since in the jazz community you are expected to play if you have the
audacity to be on the bandstand. The child began to improvise on chord changes and the crowd went wild. After playing too many choruses, Faddis jokingly grabbed his trumpet and yelled, “Go to bed!”

The “other” jazz masters soloed and the performance culminated in a standing ovation.

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Jon Faddis, kid, Jimmy Heath, Paquito D’Rivera

You can tell by the photos below how delighted the professional musicians were to share the bandstand with the fourth grader. He was not playing at being a musician. He was a musician participating in the
community of practice unencumbered by grade levels, standardized curriculum or assessment schemes. The boy was evaluated based on his ability to perform.

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kid, Jimmy Heath, Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera
kid and Jimmy Heath

I could not imagine having the courage to perform in front of Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, Roy Haynes and Freddie Hubbard, but this young musician sensed that he was welcome on stage with his new colleagues.

Jazz musicians, like many other artists, give their time generously and share their gifts because they care about the continuum of culture. They are passionate about the arts continuing to flourish after their playing days are through. One look at saxophonist Jimmy Heath, eight times the age of the young trumpet player by his side, and you remember what learning and teaching are all about.

Originally published, January 8, 2007 in The Pulse Education’s Place for Debate