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Rutgers University-Newark and Community Partners Celebrate Newark’s “Super” Jazz Heritage

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Jazz House Kids perform

On Super Bowl Media Day, Tuesday, January 28, the Rutgers Office of University-Community Partnerships hosted “A Super Celebration of Jazz Saxophones at Rutgers University-Newark.” This historic campus-community cultural event celebrated Newark’s jazz heritage.

"The event paid a wonderful tribute to Rutgers University and the legacy of jazz music in Newark,” remarked Rutgers alumna and graduate student, Bernadette Scott, who also is a Newark native and resident. “It thoughtfully brought together many important players in the Newark community to create an evening of pure excellence. The speakers and musicians masterfully combined history and performance to give all in attendance a super evening that they won't forget. It was one of the best events I ever have attended."

The concert featured an impressive lineup of jazz performance groups and institutions, including The Kenny Garrett Quintet, led by Grammy® Award winning saxophonist Kenny Garrett; The Leo Johnson Quartet, led by Newark jazz legend and Rutgers alumnus, Leo Johnson; youth performance group, Jazz House Kids; WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM; and the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, the largest and most comprehensive library and archive of jazz and jazz-related materials in the world. The program was emceed by Sheila Anderson, Weekend Jazz After Hours Host for WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM, with special remarks from Dr. Clement A. Price, Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History and Director of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience.

The program combined arts, culture, and public scholarship as tools for community engagement by collectively showcasing the university and cultural institutions like the Institute of Jazz Studies and WBGO as shared community assets. The celebration began with tours of the Institute of Jazz Studies for WBGO members and Rutgers alumni. Tour participants also were treated to a pre-concert reception where they had the opportunity to meet Dr. Nancy Cantor, the new chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, as well as enjoy live performances from members of Jazz House Kids in an intimate setting.

“This was a great opportunity for alumni to interact with staff, faculty, current students, and the greater Newark community,” said Bonnie Kenselaar, Rutgers College alumna and assistant director for alumni relations at Rutgers University–Newark. “Members of the Rutgers Jazz M.A. Alumni, a chartered organization of the Rutgers University Alumni Association, were among the musicians who performed and also were among some of the event organizers. What better way for these alumni to connect with their alma mater than by performing and working together to stage this wonderful jazz event right here on campus?”

The concert, held in the Paul Robeson Campus Center, attracted over 400 attendees, including Rutgers faculty, staff, alumni and students, as well as Newark residents, local civic and community leaders and tri-state area visitors. While being greeted and guided to their seats by Rutgers University-Newark student hosts representing various departments, guests were treated to a pre-concert performance from a jazz combo from the Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Jazz Studies Department featuring faculty member, Victor Lewis. This performance was followed by greetings from Dr. Diane Hill, Assistant Chancellor of University-Community Partnerships, and Amy Niles, Acting President and CEO of WBGO.

"This was such a tremendous event. I have received nothing but positive feedback from our WBGO members," commented Amy Niles. "I was particularly impressed with the enthusiasm and professionalism that the Rutgers student volunteers demonstrated. They were excellent ambassadors."

Emcee Sheila Anderson introduced Dr. Price, whose remarks framed the concert event in historical context. As a renowned public scholar on the city of Newark, Dr. Price helped to underscore the overall educational value of the event for Rutgers students, faculty, staff, community residents and visitors, which underscored its significance as a university-community engaged cultural program.

After Dr. Price’s remarks, images of early-20th century jazz personalities and establishments were displayed for audience members to enjoy as they listened to The Leo Johnson Quartet kick off the first musical set of the evening entitled “Passing the Torch.” In the middle of the set, Leo

Johnson and his players literally passed off their musical instruments one-by-one to members of Jazz House Kids.

“Among jazz musicians, no relationship is more important than that of mentor and protégé,” said April Grier, event committee co-chair and alumna of the Rutgers M.A. Program in Jazz History and Research. “The jazz tradition honors the significance of such tutelage, and it was my vision to demonstrate, in the concert’s first set, this musical passing of the torch from one generation to the next.”

The second set featured The Kenny Garrett Quintet. Over the course of his 30 year career, Garrett has received numerous accolades. He has been described by The New York Times  as “one of the most admired alto saxophonists in jazz after Charlie Parker.” In 2010, his album, Five Peace Band – Live, won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. A year later, Garrett was presented with an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA. Most recently, he won the Downbeat Readers Poll Award for best alto saxophonist, the eighth time that he has received this award and his album, Pushing the World Away, was nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category.

"I truly had a great time at Rutgers playing with Jazz House Kids," said student musician, Immanuel Wilkins. "Playing and getting to watch one of my favorite alto players, Kenny Garrett, was a real inspiration."

"Rutgers provided our young musicians with a tremendous opportunity to share the stage with such amazing artists," added Ryan Maloney, Director of Education and Programming for Jazz House Kids. "Mr. Garrett and Mr. Johnson took time before, during and after the concert to mentor the students, and that type of experience is really at the core of the jazz tradition."

"This event drew an intergenerational audience. There were people there from diverse backgrounds, different places, different ages," said Kevin Hibbert, MD, Medical Director of Fathers Now, an affiliate program of Newark Now that reconnects fathers returning home from prison with their children and families. "Several fathers from our program attended the concert, and they left very inspired having learned so much about Newark's history as a jazz mecca. The experience clearly made them even more proud of being a Newark resident."

For more information about A Super Celebration of Jazz Saxophones at Rutgers University-Newark, contact Rolando Herts, Associate Director, Rutgers Office of University-Community Partnerships, at rherts@newark.rutgers.edu or at (973) 353-1630.