High on the hill in Collegetown last Thursday, June 12, in front of a standing-room-only crowd, members of the Ithaca College School of Music Jazz faculty—including Michael Titlebaum (saxophone), Greg Evans (drum set), and Nicholas Walker (double bass)—played side-by-side with the Ithaca High School Jazz Ensemble, directed by Michael Treat, an IC School of Music alum.
A unique opportunity for both groups, the concert featured compositions by Ithaca College Jazz Studies Director Michael Titlebaum, Ithaca College Professor Emeritus Steve Brown, and Ithaca High School students Soren Jung and Kieran Loehr, as well as works by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Machito, Rogers & Heart, Bob Shaut, and Pat Metheny.
"This collaborative venture underscores community engagement at the most important level," IC Music Faculty member Greg Evans said. "From our faculty's commitment to engaging area high school students and public school teachers, to working with community members like the Carriage House Cafe, folks are committed to preserving and presenting the social tradition of improvised music."
Nicholas Walker, associate professor of music, also commented on significance of collaborative endeavors such as this:
"The beauty of collaborating through improvised music is that this art is a great equalizer,” he said. “It engages players of all levels, ages, backgrounds with one another, and also with the audience members in a way that celebrates the individual, and also connects us to multiple cultural traditions. The exuberant feeling in the room tonight is paramount to a celebration of the diversity and cultural integrity of the Ithaca community.”
Aaron Chandler, co-owner of the Carriage House Café and an active music enthusiast, sees his venue continuing to play a central role in the local music community.
"Our stage, was built in honor of my childhood friend, Brent Pitzer,” Chandler said. “He was a musician, and Ithaca High School graduate who died tragically after his freshman year in college. Brent loved people, and he loved music, and he especially loved how music brought people together. That's with the Carriage House Hayloft is all about!"
Ithaca High School Jazz director Michael Treat coined the evening, “the culminating event of several months of clinics and performances designed to teach the Ithaca High School Jazz students about the traditions of Jazz.”
Expanding on that point, Treat detailed a variety of collaborative projects across several months leading up to the Carriage House show. This past winter, Evans presented a session to Treat’s students on big band and rhythm and subdivision in jazz, exploring the origins and nuances of swing music. In March, Titlebaum hosted the Essentially Ellington Festival at IC, where Ithaca High School students performed and received a clinic from the world-renowned bassist Rodney Whitaker. At the beginning of this month, Treat’s students learned one of Titlebaum’s compositions, Ned’s Groove, to perform alongside the faculty trio. In their rehearsals, Titlebaum, Evans and Walker worked with the students and encouraged their efforts in composition and improvisation. Earlier in the year, the faculty trio also coached and performed with two Ithaca High School combos.
“This relationship established between IC Jazz and Ithaca High School Jazz has enriched the students’ Jazz education as well as the Jazz scene in the community,” Treat added. “Titlebaum, Evans, and Walker are doing important work, both at the college and in the community. The Ithaca High School Jazz Ensemble looks forward to continuing this relationship in coming years."
In addition to this project, Jazz faculty work closely with area Ithaca city school district students and teachers year-round. Evans, who leads a weekly jam session at various local music venues, has become a kind of mentor for local novice players, schoolchildren, and high school students.
"Greg's mentorship has paid off,” says Todd Cowen, father of Ithaca High School saxophonist Archie Cowen, who was featured in the concert. “Several area kids are going on to major conservatories, and it's been an incredible relationship for my son.”
Titlebaum, director of Jazz Studies at Ithaca College, noted that collaborating with local music teachers and programs—like Treat and the Ithaca High School Jazz Ensemble, as well as the Cornell Jazz Department—has established a common jazz repertoire core and fostered community music-making in the area.
“Tonight’s deeply moving concert illustrates how this collaboration has thoroughly succeeded,” Titlebaum said, “enabling the students to reach such wonderful musical heights.”
▶Learn more about the Ithaca College School of Music Jazz program