The recent, sudden cancellation of the 2015 Arizona Jazz Festival feeds many’s fears that jazz is a dying art form. A recent Nielsen report even labeled jazz as “the least popular genre.” But, in October, there have been several other events, headlined by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and William “Doc” Jones, which indicate the predictions of jazz’s death in Phoenix are premature.
The week of October 18, 2015, started with a two-part master class by The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, at The Nash in downtown Phoenix. The Institute is a non-profit, established in 1986, to offer the most promising young musicians college-level training with established jazz masters, and provide music education programs to youth. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA selects a small ensemble, from hundreds of applicants, for a two-year period of intensive training, performance and mentoring.
With sponsorship from the Arizona Community Foundation’s Black Philanthropy Initiative, United Airlines, UCLA Arts, Karen Scates, and the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, Phoenix was able to host a tour by the seven 2016 selectees. It was appropriate that the performances were held at The Nash, a club named after Grammy-winning drummer and educator Lewis Nash, who attended this special event. The diverse, international ensemble included musicians from US to Israel to Australia.
The audience at The Nash Sunday afternoon was treated to performances illustrating the history of jazz in the US, from its start in the South through swing, bebop and fusion. Then, ASU students, and even an outstanding high school saxophonist, joined them on stage, played some compositions and received advice.
Long-time Phoenix residents remember a time when enjoying jazz performances at numerous clubs around the Valley, like Doc’s Place on Camelback Avenue, on Friday and Saturday nights was common. While most of the clubs are gone, Doc Jones remains active, among other things, being Executive Director for Next Student Music Academy of the Arts. But Phoenicians, especially some disappointed about the jazz festival, will get to see his band live in the Champagne & Jazz Lounge at the Bentley Polo Championships, the largest polo event in the US, on October 24, 2015.
So, while jazz is not as omnipresent as it appeared in the 1950’s, the voluminous applications expected by December 4 for the 2018 Thelonious Monk class will prove that it still attracts and nurtures the best musicians from all over the world.