As Founder and Executive-Artistic Director of JazzReach, Hans Schuman has been the man behind educational programs in over 75 communities since the organization’s inception. Dedicated to the promotion, performance, creation and teaching of jazz music by way of “widely acclaimed live multi-media educational programs for young audiences, captivating main-stage concerts for general audiences and informative clinics and master-classes for student musicians and ensembles,” JazzReach has become a staple of the jazz community supported by both fans and artists alike. This Sunday 4/14/13, Chris Dave and the Drumhedz will be performing a benefit concert for JazzReach at the Highline Ballroom. Check out more about the concert and cause below as we discuss with Schuman.
In the 19+ years of JazzReach’s existence, how have you seen the support for jazz grow or drop? There is a sort of revival for jazz today, but in 1997 the schools were still thriving with music programs. What has the journey been like?
Well, if we’re talking about support for jazz in terms of “funding,” we’ve seen Jazz at Lincoln Center garner tens of millions of dollars in support of their remarkable Columbus Circle facility and more recently, SFJazz do the same in San Francisco. Mind you, these institutions are headquartered in two of the wealthiest, more culturally engaged communities in the United States, so these achievements, while certainly not easy by any stretch, could only have been made possible with committed and sustained “high-net-worth” support systems in place.
However, if we’re talking about support for jazz on a broader, national level (from a ticket or recording sales perspective), it’s hard to quantify. I can say that I’ve tirelessly sustained JazzReach (mostly through grants and contributions) for almost two decades which would indicate that (at best) a support structure exists and that there’s a national demand for our programs and a need for high quality supplementary arts programs for young people.
As far as our journey is concerned, it’s been incredibly arduous, exhausting, frustrating, rewarding beyond words and worth every minute. I often think of masterful jazz artists as being akin to masterful chefs. There will always be a niche demand for an intimate, sophisticated, refined dining experiences in the same way that there will always be a niche demand for intimate, sophisticated and refined live music experiences. It’s never going to resonate “en masse,” but there’s such a purity, truth and beauty in jazz (and fine cuisine) at its best, and for those of us who love it, I believe it’s our natural inclination to want to share it with the uninitiated.
JazzReach’s role, much like that of conscientious health and nutrition professionals who promote the importance and value of a healthy diet, is to offer engaging and informative educational opportunities that promote the importance and value of jazz and its relevance to the American experience and more broadly, the human condition. To that end, we take some of our best and brightest jazz artists on the scene today into communities throughout the country and provide pure, undiluted live educational experiences that aim to foster a greater appreciation, awareness and understanding of the art form. Our objectives are to contribute to the process of producing new generations of jazz listeners, patrons and supporters.
What has been the most rewarding program for you personally that JazzReach has done?
Since inception, I’m pleased to report that we’ve presented programs in over 75 communities in over 35 states in partnership with many of our nation’s most esteemed performing arts venues and in so doing, successfully served over a quarter million young people. That said, I’d have to say, the most rewarding program we ever presented was probably our very first back in ’97. I’d strived tenaciously for the first three years with virtually no funding. We were a start-up with no history or track record, so I endured rejection after rejection after rejection until finally, the ASCAP Foundation (bless ’em) gave us our first grant to premiere our debut program, “Get Hip!” We rented Merkin Hall in Manhattan and invited a bunch of NYC public schools to bring their students. The show was packed and a great success. A few days later, I received these big packets full of letters from students thanking me and conveying what a great time they had. One student in particular said he was glad to see that there were people in the world like me who care about kids and want to make the world a better place through music and that I was a role model. It literally reduced me to tears and if anything, affirmed that I was on the right path and that my efforts were not in vain.
What social and cultural aspects make jazz such a compelling art form in your opinion?
Jazz has produced some of our greatest cultural icons and some of the most creative artists in the history of music. Like no other American idiom, it places a premium on imagination, creativity, excellence, refinement and virtuosity and at its best, reflects the highest levels of artistic expression and individual self-realization. And in a world of samples, loops and monotonous drum beats, that, to me (and hopefully our young audiences) is compelling.
Tell me about the Metta Quintet. What type of artistic programming do they carry out and how did they come together?
Metta Quintet is JazzReach’s official resident ensemble and was established to carry out the organization’s mission. We are as committed to the the creation and performance of new works as we are to our efforts in arts education. The ensemble features some of today’s most creative, dynamic artists and since 2002, released three critically acclaimed recordings featuring all original music that’s been mostly inspired by central themes such as, the writings of James Baldwin (“Going to Meet The Man”), the NYC subway experience (“Subway Songs”) and the globalization of jazz (“Big Drum / Small World”). Some of the renowned composers we’ve commissioned for our project s include Brad Mehldau, Miguel Zenon, Yosvanny Terry, Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lionel Loueke, Myron Walden, Jimmy Greene, Larry Goldings, Jon Cowherd and our very own, Marcus Strickland to name a few.
What has the process been like to develop all of your amazing programming from the live multi-media programs for young audiences to the clinics and workshops and the mainstage concerts? Who is involved and what is that process entail?
Our programs are custom tailored to target specific age groups and levels of comprehension and aim to illuminate the many unique facets of the art form. My process is to come up with a theme for a program (i.e. jazz history, the globalization of jazz, improvisation and the function of the jazz ensemble, the achievements of women in jazz or of a specific artist such as Miles Davis or Duke Ellington etc.) and build it out from there. All of our programs feature a live narrator, so I’ll generally start by writing a script and then I collaborate with video designers on the creation of our video content and composers and arrangers on the music. These programs are at the core of our mission which is to cultivate new audiences. The clinics and masterclasses function as supplements to those programs and are designed to nurture young talent while the MainStage concerts provide a forum for Metta Quintet to exercise different creative muscles and perform for wider, general audiences of all ages.
Chris Dave is one of the preeminent artists of our generation. How did you get involved with him?
JazzReach relies on the support of the jazz community to elevate our organizational profile and help make what we do possible and have been honored and privileged to have some of the world’s most renowned artists headline benefit concerts on our behalf. As for Chris’ involvement, we simply approached him and he said, “yes.” He’s one of those rare, visionary artists that come along every generation that push the role and sound of their instrument in new directions and inspire scores in the process.
Other artists who’ve headlined JazzReach benefit concerts include Bruce Hornsby, Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, Brian Blade, Bill Frisell, Christian McBride, Larry Grenadier, Brad Mehldau, Joe Lovano, Brian Blade, Jeff “Tain” Watts, John Patitucci, Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Scofield, Jason Moran and Bandwagon, Raul Midon, Chris Potter, Marco Benevento, Gregory Hutchinson, Antonio Sanchez, Jane Monheit, Nicholas Payton and Kenny Garrett to name a few.
What excites you the most about the future of JazzReach? What do you need to continue doing the amazing work you do?
I’m excited about growing, expanding artistic programming, diversifying how we carry our mission, adding staff, increasing overall organizational capacity and bandwidth, creating the richest, most immersive and engaging content possible and most importantly, significantly increasing numbers of young people impacted and enriched by our programs.
What we need to achieve those goals are resources, both human and financial. To that end, I’m working tirelessly to cultivate more streams of earned and contributed revenue and to build and fortify our board or directors with committed, engaged individuals who want to play a meaningful, lead role in ensuring that we continue to grow, thrive, flourish. For more information and how you can support: http://www.jazzreach.org
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)