The second ever Naples Philharmonic Youth Jazz Orchestra rehearsal is a rainy but spirited one. The 19 members of Artis—Naples’ newest ensemble enter sporadically in hoodies and squeaky shoes, and due to the slow traffic outside, several don’t
arrive until after the 3:30 start time. It took Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra trumpeter and Youth Jazz Orchestra Director Dan Miller an hour to get to rehearsal from Golden Gate. But once these dedicated musicians have taken their seats, it’s go time.
Most public schools don’t teach music theory, the foundational knowledge of how and why music works. So Miller and the orchestra spend rehearsal on the nuts and bolts of scales, harmonies and chord construction. In unison, the orchestra climbs through a series of intricate jazz scales. Most attempts are executed well, with Miller first jazzily singing each note to the kids’ amusement. When the horn section flubs a tough, descending sequence, Miller grimaces goodnaturedly:
“Well…we can work on that,” he says.
These early rehearsals may not sound as glamorous as a Charlie Parker solo, but learning how the be-bop and blues scales interact is critical to learning how to improvise. And as Miller explains to the students, improvising and its inherent freedom are what jazz is all about.
“You don’t have anyone telling you what to do,” Miller tells the orchestra during his lesson on harmonic motion. “There are no wrong notes. Remove that fear from your pursuit of improvisation.”
The Youth Jazz Orchestra comprises 17 local high schoolers and two eighth graders, featuring four trumpets, four trombones, three saxophones, two guitars, a vibraphone, two upright basses, two drummers and a piano. Original plans for the ensemble were to perform as a traditional sextet. But Miller says the response to open audition announcements in Collier County schools was so strong with talented, enthusiastic players that he accepted every applicant.
The sextet became an orchestra, and rehearsals became a workshop format, meeting each Wednesday leading up to the orchestra’s official debut as the openers for All That Jazz on May 11.
In the meantime, the students will hone their skills with the help of Miller and other members of the adult Jazz Orchestra, who’ll
regularly sit in on rehearsals.
Trombonist and Gulf Coast High School junior Andrew Ramos performed in the ensemble’s first unofficial gig at a fundraising
event for Artis—Naples’ donors on January 8, just four days after the orchestra’s auditions. Andrew and three other students joined Miller and three of his fellow Jazz Orchestra members after only a 10-minute run-through with no formal rehearsals. Andrew, a six and- a-half-year veteran of student ensembles, was undaunted by the short preparation time.
“We played a song that we learned by memory and improved over that,” says Andrew. “I was a little (nervous), but we’re all pretty
strong players, so I was confident in us.”
For Andrew, meeting his new orchestra co-members and learning new techniques in rehearsal’s relaxed but focused atmosphere have been his favorite parts of the Youth Jazz Orchestra so far.
“Most school rehearsals aren’t too fun,” Andrew admits. “But these you can actually get into. Playing at school is kind of straight
forward, right off the page. Here, you can play what’s on your mind and speak from the soul.”
Vice President of Artistic Operations David Filner is delighted to be expanding Artis—Naples’ youth ensembles offerings, which also include the Youth Orchestra, Symphonia and Youth Chorus. As the adult Jazz Orchestra stewards these students players, David sees the new orchestra’s formation as an ideal complement to Artis— Naples’ multidisciplinary approach to youth education.
“This unique educational program provides the rare opportunity for young Collier County musicians to work with some of the most talented professional jazz musicians in the area and highlights the importance that Artis—Naples places on creating and presenting a wide variety of art forms,” Filner says.