Saxophonist's jazz for children

Performance: Hayes Greenfield is bringing his Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz show to Smith Theatre this weekend.


January 29, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Despite traditional images of smoky bars and late-night jam sessions, jazz is a natural fit with children, saxophonist Hayes Greenfield says.

Greenfield will bring his Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz show for young audiences to Columbia this weekend as a guest of the Candlelight Concert Society.

"I love jazz," he said by telephone from his home in New York, "the fact that you can improvise, you can put your own imprint on that tune."

Children respond to that creativity, he said. A video recording of one performance shows kids dancing free-form, waving their arms and kicking out their legs, tapping their feet and clapping their hands, and being invited onstage to offer their own "bah bo bah dee bah do" sounds of scat singing.

At performances for middle and high school audiences, Greenfield said, he sometimes invites youths to play with the professionals in the band.

The result is thrilling, he said. "All of a sudden they are taking these risks and doing things they never thought of," he said. "Kids grow up thinking jazz is old-fogy music. I let them find their own way into it."

Greenfield will present his Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz show twice at Smith Theatre in Columbia on Sunday. The performances are part of Candlelight's children's series, which presents six artists each season.

"I think jazz is a word we all know, but we really don't know what it is," said Toba Barth, a Columbia-based arts consultant who organizes the children's series. Teaching children about jazz and its focus on free expression, "I think is just a wonderful match," she said.

Greenfield grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and started playing saxophone when he was 15. Now 46, he is a full-time jazz musician balancing his show for young audiences with gigs at New York jazz clubs and international jazz festivals. He has recorded several albums and written scores for more than 60 films and television specials.

In the early 1990s, he started volunteering for and eventually became director of the music department of an after-school program in New York called The Door. He also mentored young men making the transition from prison to the community.

That interest in helping youths led to two short films promoting youth programs and adult interaction as important factors for children.

He next started working on a recording of children's songs to raise money to publicize youth programs. The project did not take off as intended. But his jazzy arrangements of childhood favorites such as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Old MacDonald" were a hit with one of Greenfield's students, artist Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein offered the financial support to make the Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz CD.

The album, which includes performances by vocalists Richie Havens and Miles Griffith, was released in 1998.

The songs are all familiar to children but updated with some serious jazz techniques. Greenfield said a few even subtly incorporate chord changes and harmonics from works by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

The Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz show grew out of the CD, appealing to children with lots of interaction (for adults, too) and no rules about sitting still and listening quietly.

"Kids are hungry for acoustic instruments," Greenfield said. When they see live musicians getting back to basics, "they love it."

He said that playing music is telling a story. Players and listeners "have to learn the language."

Greenfield said he hopes that his young spectators will continue to learn throughout their lives.

"I think the future of jazz needs more audiences," he said, "more educated audiences, more people that are open to different kinds of creative communication."

The Candlelight Concert Society will present Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz at 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $9. Information: 410-480-9950, or .net/candlelightconcerts.

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