Jazz is commonly credited as the only truly American music — a cross-breed of vernacular and orchestral traditions infused with pioneer spirit.
But conductor Justin DiCioccio, who will lead Brevard Music Center jazz students in an upcoming concert, espouses the virtues of group spirit instead.
“A great jazz band,” he posits, “is like a great basketball team, where everyone plays off of one other.”
The Brevard Music Festival will open its current season with a program featuring recent versions of such well-worn standards as “Laura,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” With New Takes: Songs of the Big Band Era, the music center — which has traditionally leaned toward virtuosity in the classical idiom — is celebrating its new jazz program, created last year in direct response to students’ requests.
And just as the genre itself often uses recognizable melody as a jumping-off point for creative flight, this inaugural concert is designed to educate young performers.
In choosing to present a swing program, DiCioccio hopes to gently introduce the BMF crowds to a different structural landscape. For this, he’s enlisted guest soloist Randy Brecker, an easily recognizable landmark artist to most music lovers who haven’t been asleep at the wheel for the past three decades.
A founding member of Blood, Sweat and Tears and the seminal fusion group Dreams, this two-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter has done yeoman’s work as a sought-after session man, and as co-conspirator for luminaries ranging from Art Blakely to Jaco Pastorius, James Taylor to Frank Zappa.
Swing, however, isn’t a genre that seems synonymous with this horn man’s style — and that departure will help create the dynamic DiCioccio is trying to achieve with New Takes.
“It’s great, because Randy is a performer who can play in any style,” says the conductor. “He’s a contemporary musician with mass appeal playing from the Great American Songbook. It’s a different kind of fusion.”
As a percussionist and conductor, DiCioccio has toured with a who’s-who of jazz greats, serving a long stint as the White House drummer during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
But this jazz veteran — known as “the musician’s teacher” — is at heart an educator: Name an innovative jazz-education program and it seems his mark is on it. (The conductor’s successes include the award-winning LaGuardia High School Jazz Program, the country’s first fully accredited secondary-school curriculum in the genre; Carnegie Hall Jazz; the Grammy All-American High School Big Band; the VH-1 Save The Music program; and Jazz at Lincoln Center.)
BMC’s development of its program in cooperation with the Manhattan School of Music (where DiCioccio serves as associate dean and chairs the jazz department) has given the local music center’s students access to the resources of this well-established institution, including the Manhattan School’s distinguished faculty (DiCioccio and Brecker among them).
“These students are all improvisers of the highest order, and bringing them together is an important part of the process,” explains DiCoccio.
That path ideally ends in becoming what DiCioccio calls the “complete ‘artist musician’ of the 21st century” — performer, composer and teacher.
“The students we have in musical education today are so talented,” he notes. “We have never had such a high standard. We’re talking about teaching the student to do everything on its highest artistic level.
“When they recognize that they are doing something important, with depth and passion — when they realize that,” he says, “they are making art.”
New Takes: Songs of the Big Band Era, featuring soloist Randy Brecker with the Brevard Music Center Jazz Institute Big Band, happens Friday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Tickets cost $21 and $24. The Brevard Music Festival runs through Sunday, Aug. 3. For a schedule of concerts and more information, call (828) 862-2105 — toll-free at (888) 384-8682 — or visit www.brevardmusic.org.
Other Brevard Music Festival highlights
• Saturday, June 14: The Temptations Review, starring David Edwards:
America’s No. 1 classic-R&B group, The Temptations, take the stage to perform hits such as “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination” at 7:30 p.m. at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Tickets range from $27.50 to $32.50; seating in the orchestra pit is $40.
• Saturday, June 28: Sarah Chang with the Brevard Music Center Festival Orchestra:
The internationally acclaimed 20-year-old violinist will perform Beethoven’s Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Tickets cost $23 or $26.
• Wednesday, July 2 and Friday, July 4: The Pirates of Penzance, directed by Ronald Boudreaux and conducted by John Greer:
You can get a sneak peek of Gilbert and Sullivan’s swashbuckling musical at the July 2 dress-rehearsal performance at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium (7:30 p.m.; $24). The 4th of July performance also happens at Whittington-Pfohl, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the second show cost $23 and $26.
• Saturday, July 12: Jerry Hadley with the Brevard Music Center Festival Orchestra:
Winner of three Grammy awards and the leading American romantic tenor of his generation, Hadley will sing selections by Schubert, Ravel and Respighi. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium; tickets cost $23 and $26.
• Sunday, July 27: Concertmaster Cecylia Arzewski with the Brevard Music Center Festival Orchestra (David Effron conducting):
The orchestra and Arzewski will perform Neilson’s Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”), Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana at 3 p.m. at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Tickets cost $21 and $24.
• Tuesday, July 29: Arlo Guthrie:
This long-haired anti-establishment troubadour, the son of folk pioneer Woody Guthrie, will share an evening of song and storytelling at 8 p.m. at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Tickets range from $27.50 to $32.50 (orchestra-pit seating is $40).