Learning from Mr. Eubanks

Kev­in Eu­banks gives in­struc­tion to NEHS 11th grader, Rana Ash­faq. Eu­banks vis­ited North­east High School for a Jazz in the Classroom Clin­ic on Thursday, June 9. Kev­in Cook / for Times

“Listen!” Kev­in Eu­banks stressed to the young mu­si­cians gathered in North­east High School’s Room 135 last Thursday. “You have to listen to the people next to you.”

The gui­tar­ist and former To­night Show With Jay Leno bandlead­er worked with about 80 stu­dents dur­ing a mu­sic clin­ic at the Cottman Av­en­ue school, but it wasn’t all about mu­sic.

Eu­banks’ vis­it to the North­east was part of his role as artist­ic dir­ect­or of the Thel­o­ni­ous Monk In­sti­tute’s Jazz in the Classroom pro­gram. It was about cre­at­ing to­geth­er, about work­ing to­geth­er, ac­com­plish­ing something to­geth­er, solv­ing prob­lems to­geth­er.

Eu­banks guided the stu­dent mu­si­cians in com­ing up with a beat and a melody and put­ting it all to­geth­er.

There was plenty of young tal­ent in the room with him. There were kids who played strings, brass, per­cus­sion, wood­winds, elec­tric bass, vibes and elec­tric gui­tar. There were sing­ers and dan­cers too.

Phil­adelphia nat­ive Eu­banks — the To­night Show bandlead­er for 15 years, un­til May 2010 — did not choose to con­duct his clin­ic at North­east High be­cause he’s a former stu­dent. He at­ten­ded Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr. High School in Mount Airy, where one of his teach­ers was Lynne Dix­on. Dix­on now teaches at North­east.

Dix­on said last week’s ses­sion with stu­dents was the first time Eu­banks had brought the Thel­o­ni­ous Monk pro­gram to Phil­adelphia.

“He does it all the time in L.A.,” where he now lives, she said.

The Thel­o­ni­ous Monk In­sti­tute of Jazz, es­tab­lished in memory of the great jazz pi­an­ist and com­poser, is cel­eb­rat­ing its 25th an­niversary this year. Monk be­lieved that the best way to learn jazz is from a mas­ter of the mu­sic. The in­sti­tute fol­lows that philo­sophy by bring­ing jazz mu­si­cians to­geth­er to teach young mu­si­cians and present­ing jazz-based edu­ca­tion pro­grams free of charge.

The in­sti­tute’s Jazz in the Classroom pro­gram helps the edu­ca­tion of young mu­si­cians in pub­lic schools across the United States.

Eu­banks, 53, has vis­ited six Los Angeles-area schools in the past year. Be­sides teach­ing stu­dents about jazz, he dis­cusses the val­ues that jazz rep­res­ents — team­work, unity, eth­nic di­versity and demo­cracy.

The teens at last week’s mu­sic clin­ic were in­vited to take part, said school choir dir­ect­or Tim Fla­herty.

“We had three or four weeks to put it to­geth­er,” he said, adding that the fi­nal day was nerve-wrack­ing.

Eu­banks demon­strated a good deal of pa­tience throughout the af­ter­noon and de­man­ded that the kids pay at­ten­tion to one an­oth­er as they put to­geth­er a piece of mu­sic that hadn’t ex­is­ted un­til that af­ter­noon.

“If you can’t hear the per­son next to you, you’re too loud,” he told the stu­dents.

And he wanted to hear what they had to say.

“What should hap­pen first?” Eu­banks asked early in the pro­gram.

The stu­dents worked out which in­stru­ments would play first, when the sing­ers should come in and when the dan­cers should enter. The kids had to prac­tice over and over, in small groups and en masse, by singing the sounds of their un­writ­ten com­pos­i­tion.

One young mu­si­cian was a little shy about singing out the beat, but Eu­banks got back to him later and let him try again.

An­oth­er wanted to write down his ideas, not just sound them out.

You want to write that down and give it out to every­body right now? Eu­banks asked.

The stu­dent said he did.

No, no, Eu­banks told him. Let’s just hear it.

The stu­dent gave it a try.

But then the pro­cess of cre­at­ing and or­gan­iz­ing a new piece of mu­sic came to what would be an in­ev­it­able stick­ing point, and one of the stu­dents looked to­ward mu­sic teach­er Bill Wenglicki for guid­ance.

Don’t look at him, Eu­banks said. Solve it your­self.

“You have to try to solve your own prob­lems,” he said, not­ing that the prin­ciple should be ap­plied to everything they do.

“If you don’t solve your own prob­lems, you’re go­ing to have to live with them … be­cause nobody cares if you don’t care.”

And that was the biggest point be­ing made last week, Wenglicki said. That the arts are im­port­ant and add so much to our lives.

It’s a les­son that Eu­banks also wanted to im­part.

“The ef­fort you put in­to study­ing and learn­ing mu­sic can be trans­formed in­to any format you want,” he told the young people. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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