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MV’s First Annual Jazz Night

Life is a lot like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.  – George Gershwin

On February 22, 2022, Mount Vernon students and their families experienced the power of live performance at Mount Vernon’s inaugural Jazz Night. Led by directors Vann Thornton and Michael Nestor, Middle School and Upper School singers and instrumental musicians came together with their peers and some top-notch pros to share their talents. To kick off the evening, performing arts teachers Amanda Lower and Matthew Neylon taught some enthusiastic students and parents the basics of swing dancing, which originated in the 1920’s in Harlem with jazz music. Swing dancing is an energetic social dance that encourages improvisation. After a few minutes of learning several classic moves, dancers let loose on the dance floor with their partners and experimented with their new skills.  

Do not fear mistakes. There are none.  – Miles Davis

Jazz music is an exchange of musical ideas. Jazz is all about improvisation and involves a complex chord progression with a melody or phrase that repeats throughout the piece. Solos are interspersed between the melody and allows the musicians to express their creativity in a way never seen in prior musical forms.

Mount Vernon Performing Arts Faculty, Vann Thornton, Michael Nestor, Clark Taylor, and Jerry Fields along with several pro musicians warmed up the audience with some jazz classics, while students watched and learned as the pro musicians improvised solos while the rhythm section (drums, bass, guitar, and piano) comped chords. Then some of the students gave it a try. The audience was encouraged to show their support for these courageous students.

I always try to teach by example and not force my ideas on a young musician. One of the reasons we’re here is to be part of this process of exchange.  – Dizzy Gillespie

Band leader Vann Thornton praised the students for their bravery for getting on stage and performing. Vernon Vocals impressed everyone with their performance, while Mr. Neylon made sure to note that the ensemble is completely student-led. The group meets before school each week to rehearse. They chose all of their own music and prepared several songs featuring soloists, with only minimal assistance from faculty.  Middle school band director Michael Nestor pointed out how the middle school jazz band was created only seven months ago with many students just beginning to learn their instruments. Students performed several tunes for the first time that evening in front of a supportive audience.

A big thank you goes out to all of the students, faculty and professional musicians that shared their gifts with the audience and each other. We look forward to next year’s Jazz Night, when we hope to give even more artists at Mount Vernon the opportunity to express their creativity through jazz.

Was a Swinging Success!