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The Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts Jazz Ensemble 1: In the Pocket

Jack Bowers By

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Those who argue that young people are learning jazz “by the numbers” and can’t possibly grasp its subtler nuances should listen to this mind-blowing album by Dallas,Texas' Booker T. Washington HSPVA Jazz Combo 1, showcasing incarnations of the sextet from 2001 and ’02. Granted, this isn’t your average garden-variety Jazz Studies program (simply listing its awards would require another page); nevertheless, it does offer proof that high school students (some of them, at least) can not only grasp the fundamentals of the music but use that foundation to build a sturdy framework within which to liberate their own creative impulses.

The man most responsible for the school’s unassailable reputation for excellence in Jazz Studies is director Bart Marantz, and his star soloist for the past two years has been alto saxophonist Matt Marantz (no relation; the name’s only a coincidence — okay, so I’m pulling your leg). The younger Marantz has twice been named best instrumental soloist in Down Beat magazine’s annual survey of the country’s finest high school jazz musicians, and here he shows why, playing with awareness and maturity far beyond his years.

Marantz has to be on his toes to keep pace with his bandmates, especially pianists Frank LoCrasto and Michael Palma, neither of whom is shabby when it comes to resourceful improvising, nor are tenor saxophonist Evan Smith (’01) and guitarist Max Townsley (’02). In fact, everyone in each of the combos is clearly In the Pocket. LoCrasto earned a Down Beat award for his composition “Herbified,” which opens the album, while Palma contributed a couple of well-drawn sketches, “Journey” and “Michael’s Ballad,” for the ’02 combo. The rest of the program consists of standards — “East of the Sun,” “Cherokee,” “I Hear a Rhapsody,” “While We’re Young,” “What Is This Thing Called Love” and the scorching “terminator,” Howard Dietz / Arthur Schwartz’s “Alone Together,” with Palma at the Hammond.

As everything was recorded in a studio, we’ve no way of knowing how often editing came into play, but there is one obvious splice at the end of Marantz’s fiery solo on “Cherokee.” Aside from that everything sounds seamless, and unlike Britney Spears or Milli Vanilli, these guys aren’t lip-synching, so what you hear is what they produce — and for high school students, what they produce is more often than not astonishing, maintaining the BTW tradition that has produced such talented performers as trumpeter Roy Hargrove and singer Norah Jones, who won five Grammy Awards this year.

Contact: Bart Marantz, 972-925-1251.


Title: In the Pocket | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: BTW

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