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Vicki Evans

Retired bilingual educator, motivational author, multimedia artist and the only daughter of the legendary vocalist and Blues Historian, Margie Evans

My Jazz Story

Music is the Soundtrack of My Life By Vicki Evans From my earliest recollection, music has always been a vibrant part of my sharps and flats accentuated life. From lullabies since infancy to musical landmarks in my journey, various songs, lyrics and melodies have earmarked my life’s many breathtaking moments. Both my precious Mama and my Darling Grandma instilled a fervent love for the Gospel and the language of music through their playing the piano and teaching me to do the same. You see, Precious Mama sang all the time around the house and the sound of her voice was my heartbeat. Later she added more lullabies from Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, classical instrumentals like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, as well as poetry from Maya Angelou, Edna Tatum and Ruth Dickerson on KTYM FM along with many 45’s of children’s bedtime songs. Our home was filled with LP’s or long playing records from many of the musical greats, such as Billie Holiday, Big Maybelle, Charles Brown, Donny Hathaway, Donald Byrd, Bobby Blue Bland, Aretha Franklin, James Cleveland, The Caravans, Mahalia Jackson and Miles Davis, to name a few. Particularly, the smooth and dynamic syncopations of jazz have deeply influenced my personal and professional musical preferences, even in my classroom instruction of music appreciation during the course of my 35 years as a retired bilingual educator and highly requested substitute teacher. From my childhood, smooth jazz, ballads, Gospel, classical, lyrical poetry, prose, positive Blues, soft rock (Chicago, ABBA, Third Light Orchestra), Motown and the Philadelphia Sound, Barry White, Aretha, Ben Tankard, Isaac Hayes, James Brown, jazz infusion like Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon, even folk music like Odetta, John Denver and Jim Croce became my peace, inspiration, my source of creativity, even my lyrical food. Why? My Precious Mama, Margie Evans, sang daily and still sings Jazz, acappella, Gospel, pop standards, Blues, folk music, rhythm and blues (R&B) and her own covers of popular radio tunes. She played the piano, wrote music and played albums all the time to study her craft. Because of her singing, I became a Jazz aficionado, poet, prose writer and lyricist, even writing a song with Mama occasionally. I love the way music, much like my life, is interwoven with sultry sharps, flats, intricate melodies and varied syncopations. Music relaxes and invigorates me simultaneously. The notes speak to me, weaving a unique story or teaching a valuable lesson. Like her soulful home cooking, Mama’s singing has always made me feel right at home no matter where I am at that moment. Precious Mama passionately singing every genre, with every song becoming her very own with her unique stylizations, vocal inflections, and jazz- infused artistry. Every note she sings so effortlessly, you can feel it. So it’s no wonder that this naturally led to my learning to play classical music on the piano and violin, enjoying lyrical melodies and harmonies from Tchaikovsky to Chopin. I still appreciate my sweet Grandma singing gospel hymns which I learned in my childhood and teen years. As an educator, I taught students to appreciate music’s heritage and value the opportunities that reading and playing music can afford, from playing simple childhood tunes to the more complex classical favorites. For several years, I taught and performed various forms of dance, including modern, jazz, ballet, African and praise or “liturgical” dance, even learning to create instructional dvds for rehearsal sessions to enable dancers to perfect their skills. Studies have proven that music enhances cognitive learning, increases memory retention and aids in academic progress at all ages. As an educator, I’m keenly aware that there is research which demonstrates the cathartic value of music. Music, often combined with medicine, is well renowned as for healing, aiding memory in Alzheimer’s patients, strengthening academic concentration, and creating magical moments that can inspire, calm, excite and bring joy to its listeners. Music can touch people. It brings people together from all experiences, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds. Also, music activates cognitive development, increases alertness, stimulates the emotions, aids in relaxation, reduces stress, relieves symptoms, and even enables listeners to overcome challenges. According to Dawn Kent, author of “The Effects of Music on the Human Body and Mind,” published in 2006: “One way music involvement may be beneficial to intelligence is by the changes it makes in your brain. One of the major music centers in the brain is part of the middle mammalian layer of the brain, which is also important in emotions. Developing the middle brain leads to better attention maintenance skills, memory, motivation, and critical thinking skills (Snyder, 1997). Music is also similar to math in that it has obvious rhythm and organization. The brain functions similarly to organize the two subjects (Whitaker, 1994). One of the earlier studies involving music and intelligence was performed by Irving Hurwitz at Harvard in 1975. First grade children were taught to read solfege, the sight-singing technique using "do, re, mi...", and then given reading tests. The children who had studied solfege scored significantly higher than the control group who had not (Wilson, 2000). “(http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/vie wcontent.cgi? article=1162&context=honors) In fact, my life’s memories are filled with musical moments. Mama and I often listened to music and lyrics together, even discussing recently read books, and the significance of the lyrics as well as books. The rhythmic cadence of gospel music mixed with the onomatopoeic church sermons amidst shouts of parishioners being caught up in the Holy Spirit; the smoothness of Nat King Cole, David Foster, Earth Wind and Fire as well as Boney James; the pulsating beats of rhythm and blues, from Otis Redding to Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson; the unforgettable heart calls and soul shouts of The Blues, from Johnny Otis and B.B. King to Margie Evans; the soulful storytellers of Latin music and Country music, from Celia Cruz to Charlie Pride and Crystal Gayle... in fact, I hear music everywhere, even in the gentle rhythmic whirring of a ceiling fan’s white noise, blocking out noisy intrusions so one can concentrate or just relax; the thump thump of my heart beating and the staccato beats of footsteps. Due to my vast appetite for music, back then I listened to everything from Chicago, Jim Croce, Motown, the Love Unlimited Orchestra, MFSB and the Philadelphia Sound, Rachmaninoff to Donny Hathaway, the Temptations, the Supremes to opera and Broadway musicals like Dreamgirls, Shen Yun and the Lion King: I still do today. Music, much like reading and technology, nourishes me, causing me to thrive, enveloping me in creativity. Yes, music is everywhere, significantly touching and shaping my life. Indeed, it is the soundtrack of my life. Immense kudos to everyone who plays a part from its inception to its fruition. Viva la musica!

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