Middleton students find scat is all that in Madison Jazz Society residency program | Local Education

PAMELA COTANT For the State Journal

Third-grader Apollo Sanner was a natural when he demonstrated some scat singing during a jazz lesson with a guest musician at his Middleton school.

“I like making noises,” said Apollo, who is often pretending he is playing instruments or doing vocals.

He, along with other students, enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with scat, a vocal improvisation using the voice as an instrument, when musician Chris Wagoner came to his classroom last week.

Wagoner’s visit to Sauk Trail Elementary School was part of a multiday musician residency arranged by teacher John Becker and funded by the Madison Jazz Society.

“It was a lot of fun making fun noises,” said third-grader King Bender, who also volunteered to scat in front of the class.

Becker received $ 2,000 for the residency at Sauk Trail, where he primarily teaches.

“I feel it is very important to bring musicians and performing artists right into the schools for them to have the experience of seeing and hearing live music close up,” Becker said. “L also like to get them excited about the style of jazz and improvising.”

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The Madison Jazz Society is facilitating residencies that formerly were funded by the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium and awarded to Madison public schools.

This is the first year the Madison Jazz Society has awarded money for a residency in a school outside of Madison but it hopes to expand that effort with the recognition that the low-income and underserved students targeted also are enrolled in suburban schools, said Linda Marty Schmitz, president of the jazz society. It also has become possible through a change in the way the program is funded, which includes allowing donors to earmark where they would like to see a residency established, Schmitz said.

The Madison Jazz Society Annual Party on June 12 serves as a fundraiser for the grant and residency programs. It will run from 1 to 4 pm at the Wyndham Garden hotel in Fitchburg and feature the All That Jazz Big Band. While admission is free, donations are accepted, and money from selling various merchandise from jazz musicians also goes toward the cause.

Becker received another $ 500, which was among $ 7,320 in 2021-22 school year grants awarded by the Madison Jazz Society to music programs in Wisconsin schools to help students learn about and perform jazz. That grant will go toward putting on two concerts with guest musicians. By adding some building fund money available to his classrooms, one concert will take place Monday at Sauk Trail. Becker also will be able to replicate it Tuesday at West Middleton Elementary School, where he also teaches. The concerts will be outside, so rain dates are planned if needed.

Musicians performing in the school concerts include Wagoner on violin, vocals and accordion; Laurie Lang, bass; Paul Muench, piano; Jim Huwe, drums; and Cecilie Ballard, vocals. Becker also will play some percussion in addition to leading the students and the band. He also will choose students to come up to improvise and “sit in” with the band. Students also will sing along.

In addition to Wagoner, the residency included Lang who taught students about playing jazz, including improvising, the history and the instruments.

“Chris brought a whole museum full of instruments,” Becker said.

Wagoner has played with his wife, Mary Gaines, for about 35 years in different ensembles, and both are full-time musicians between performing, teaching and recording. Currently, Wagoner – violin, mandolin, lap steel, ukulele, guitar, accordion and vocals – and Gaines – cello, guitar, bass, vocals – are performing as Gaines and Wagoner. They also have an ensemble at Beloit College called the Creative Strings Collective.

Wagoner said part of his intent is to show students string instruments they haven’t seen before. He particularly enjoys showing them the Stroh violin, or phonofiddle, which has a horn attached.

“I love saving that to the end. The kids go, ‘What in the world,’ ”Wagoner said.

Third-grader Sofia Tran was impressed by Wagoner’s collection.

“There’s a lot of instruments that I’ve never seen before that sound really cool,” she said.

Wagoner also talked about the relationship between the vibration of the strings and how the pitch is affected by the length of the strings, the tension of the strings and the thickness of the strings and how does that vibration of the strings get transferred to sound. He also introduced students to a variety of music.

Third-grader Thomas Rajkowski said he enjoyed learning about it and was particularly drawn to the songs that reminded him of country music.

“My whole family loves country music,” he said.

Lang is a teaching and performing artist with years of experience. She works in multiple settings that include running a community jazz jam and leading a multigenerational church music group.

Lang said the residency exposed students to jazz at an age before it is part of the curriculum.

“Jazz is the United States art form that it is uniquely ours,” she said.

Another important part of residencies is working with teachers on aspects of the jazz unit they will teach and to create a model for how it can be taught in the future, Lang said.

“They were really good at it, making it really kid friendly,” third-grader Vida Sandoval said about the residency.

“There’s a lot of instruments that I’ve never seen before that sound really cool.”

Sofia Tranthird-grade student

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