All photos courtesy of Joan McClure
GENEVA - Before they played the Smith Opera House Friday night, the world-renowned, all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra took its act to Geneva Middle School. The students weren't the only ones watching, though - a film crew captured the performance for a documentary on the history of female jazz and big band groups.
“Kids can be the greatest audience to play for,” said Sherrie Maricle, drummer and leader of the band. “ If you play out of love and for beauty, they'll get it. And these kids got it.”
The 15-piece band has brought crowds to their feet all over the world, from Lincoln Center in New York City to the Salzburg Jazz Festival in Austria. “I knew of them as one of the best bands in the world, with some of the best musicians in the world,” said Tom McClure, a member of the board of Geneva Concerts, which brought the group here. “The fact that they're all women, I thought, would increase interest.”
The band kicked off its Geneva swing with a five-song set in front of a raucous auditorium full of middle-schoolers and high-school band members. “Do you guys know what you're supposed to do after a solo?” Maricle asked before the first song. The kids erupted in screams and applause. “All right, you got it,” she said.
As the band burned through swinging selections of jazz standards and kids clapped and bopped their heads along with the beat, the film crew from One Step Productions, had its cameras rolling. “They're one of the best, if not the best, all-women big bands playing today,” said director Judy Chaikin. “I wanted to find the one band that symbolizes what women's big band music is all about, and this is it.” Chaikin's project, titled “Girls in the Band,” explores the history and impact of all-female jazz and big band groups dating back to the 1940s. She's produced and directed several documentaries, including the 1987 film “Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist,” which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. Chaikin said she was interested in filming the Geneva performances because of the interaction with students and the proximity to Seneca Falls, “a pretty neat tie-in” to the theme of the film.
Maricle said she was flattered that a film crew took interest in them, but it was a little intimidating with all the cameras everywhere. “Now I know how the big celebrities feel when the paparazzi swarm around them,” she said.
After the performance, band members broke into small groups to work with students, and the cameras tagged along. In the high school band room, Maricle, stand-up bass player Noriko Ueda and pianist Brenda Earle reviewed the basics of jazz and helped students write and perform their own song, dubbed the “GMS Blues.”
The students themselves were anything but blue as they beat out simple rhythms on the drums and did a little improvisational singing. “That was pretty good. No, it was amazing,” said Jevon Jackson, 11, clutching his drum sticks.
The musicians also answered question about how they got into music. Maricle told the students she'd love the drums since age 11, when she saw jazz great Buddy Rich in person.
This is Carmine Calabria's first year as Middle School principal, and he said Friday's concert was the first step toward a new focus on arts, culture and enrichment. “We're hoping to create a whole culture of appreciation for the arts,” he said.
Middle School Band Director Nick Moses said the band was “hot, with an exclamation point.” He hopes it inspired students, especially girls, to take music seriously. “They're great role models for both girls and boys because they're incredible musicians, period,” Moses said, noting that the Middle School Jazz Band is starting up again after a year's hiatus.
Maricle the band's all-female lineup, saying that what matters most is the music. Her goal when she goes to schools, she said, is to open kids up to jazz. “This type of music really isn't that accessible - that's why you don't hear it on the radio nowadays,” she said. “Jazz is so incredibly expressive, though. That's what makes it so exciting.”
Although Friday was the band's first trip to Geneva, Maricle knows a thing or two about upstate New York. She was born in Buffalo and spent time growing up in Endicott. “I love Geneva so far, and I can't wait to see more of it,” she said.
Copyright: The Finger Lakes Times, 2007. Used with permission.