Art Talk: Gold Coast Jazz Society and Mari Mennel-Bell, founder of JazzSLAM

Gold Coast Jazz Society

Founded in 1992 to bring more jazz to the “Gold Coast” area of South Florida, the Gold Coast Jazz Society presents a seven-concert jazz series in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts each year from November through May.

Gold Coast Jazz Society has a rich history of community outreach and over the years has expanded its outreach and education programs. For those who cannot attend mainstage concerts, free outreach concerts are provided throughout the area allowing access to cultural arts programs to economically disadvantaged residents. The Jeanette M. Russell Jazz Scholarship Program has provided over $450,000 in scholarship support to qualified and aspiring young jazz students to study jazz in college or to attend summer jazz camps over the past fourteen years.

In 2010, the Society began presenting the jazz education program, JazzSLAM, at no cost, to area public schools. This program, which includes a live jazz quartet, helps students improve their reading, math and test taking skills through jazz.  In addition, Gold Coast Jazz has presented several other jazz education presentations in local elementary schools.  Gold Coast Jazz also provides the free First Friday Jazz Jam program, where local students can jam, before a live audience, with a professional jazz quartet led by local jazz musician and educator Nicole Yarling.

 JazzSLAM (Jazz Supports Language Arts and Math)

JazzSLAM 1

Designed by musician and educator, Mari Mennel-Bell, JazzSLAM is a free in-school jazz education program targeted to 4th and 5th grade students and includes a one-hour, live and interactive jazz presentation with a professional jazz quartet. The program integrates the music of jazz with elements of Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies to help students with critical thinking skills and strategies for test taking.  The program is designed to support teachers’ efforts to raise students’ test scores, motivate students to learn how to express themselves within the confines of a given form, and supports teaching with the Aural, Visual & Tactile benefits of music.  Students learn how musical forms relate to concepts such as essay writing forms, how musical rhythmic patterns relate to mathematical concepts such as percentages and how the ethnic origins of jazz relate to the geography and social studies.

We chatted with Mari Mennel-Bell to learn more about her long career in Florida and what inspired her to create JazzSLAM.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): How long have you lived and worked in Florida? 

Mari: I grew up from age 11 on in Palm Beach County. There’s something so different about being in elementary school in Florida- it was just so fun! I attended college in New York and stayed in NY after graduating. In 1998, when our kids were in elementary and middle school, my husband and I decided to relocate to Broward County and we have lived and worked here ever since.

DCA: What inspired you to create JazzSLAM?

Mari:  I started JazzSLAM almost immediately after moving to Broward County. I had been doing a jazz program while working in the Hudson Valley, but one of the things that really gave me direction was seeing my sons just sitting at desks doing busy work. They were totally disengaged; they just did not want to be in school. I saw so many connections between academics and music and was inspired to really start developing the program. So, I went back to my roots. When I was in graduate school at New York University, I worked for the Children’s Television Workshop on a program which was using music to teach reading. After I graduated, I worked in a Title I school in the South Bronx that was doing the same thing- using music to teach students that were way behind in reading. I wanted to develop a program in Broward County that taught academics through jazz. I am so grateful to the Gold Coast Jazz Society for their funding and organizational support and the teachers in Broward County, who have, over the years provided wonderful feedback and suggestions that have helped me continue to develop the program.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Mari: Without a doubt, working with the students is the best part. Just seeing them make connections and seeing light bulbs go off in their heads is so cool. It’s always surprising, too, which students are the first to make connections. Oftentimes, it is a student with special needs that will allow the connections to become physically apparent by standing up and dancing or clapping to the music. I love to use this as an opportunity to put students that are handicapped or have special needs– students who are usually being bullied– in a leadership role. It is just super cool to be able to do this.

Teaching academics through the arts is such a powerful way to reach students. Students come in and don’t know what they’re coming to and aren’t sure they are going to like it and then we get rolling, and the fact that there’s so much music involved, it just captivates them and captures their attention in a way that straight academics don’t.

JazzSLAM 4

DCA: What are some examples of how JazzSLAM integrates musical concepts with academics to enrich learning?

Mari: Our programs focus on language arts, math, and social studies concepts. For example, we use AABA song form as a parallel learning device for narrative essays. Students learn how narrative essays tell a story. Fairy tales are a perfect example: the first paragraph introduces “who, what, when, where, why”, the second develops the story, the third adds a problem, and the fourth resolves the problem. The lyrics and structure of AABA song form do the same thing.

The song “I Got Rhythm” is a great example of this. I describe it to the students as a “gratitude laundry list of good feelings that you can have”. The A sections introduce free things to be grateful for. The B section presents a problem: we are all going to have troubled times in our lives. The last A section resolves this by revisiting our gratitude list, which we can pull out when we are down in the dumps and remember all of the things that are good in life.

The day before the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, JazzSLAM gave a presentation at Silver Lakes Elementary. The school went to a “Code Red” lockdown, which turned out to be a staged, practice drill, however, the students were very frightened and lacked focus when they came in for our presentation. I used the “I Got Rhythm” lyrics to show them how to write a gratitude list to help themselves in times of stress.

After the presentation, Ms. Cline, a fourth-grade teacher, wrote, “Students learned that music can provide you with focus. That you can calm yourself with music.” Music offers logic and predictable patterns that bring us great solace in an increasingly complex world.

DCA: And how about using music to teach math?

Mari: One of the students’ favorite things is when we do a “rhythm orchestra”. Along with our drummer, Orlando Machado, I divide the room into five groups. Each group is responsible for one of five divisions of the beat: whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, and sixteenth note. Orlando demonstrates the divisions and I stand in front of the class.  Each group is given different directions and kinesthetic movements for each division of the beat, eventually all clapping together to hear how the half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes & 16th notes fit into the whole note pizza. Then, the students are asked to analyze the divisions of the beat while I show them a pie chart, i.e. “How many half notes are in the whole note pizza pie?”,  “Which fraction is each half note called?”,  “What percentage would each half note be?” Other concepts like finding the common denominator to add fractions are covered. It is purely academic and the kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize that they are learning valuable math concepts! I think every kid in America should have the opportunity to learn this way.

DCA: How has the program grown over the years?

Mari: The first year, we probably did four or five schools with fifty students each. When we started getting grants for the program, we were able to expand. I initially thought that I could do the program for 300 students at a time, but that turned out to be overwhelming, so we limited it to groups of up to 150 to ensure that each student receives equal opportunity to participate. At one point, JazzSLAM was serving 30 schools a year. Now, we are serving about 20 schools a year and I am also focused on growing our eLearning programs.

JazzSLAM 5

DCA: Tell us more about your eLearning programs.

Mari: An educator saw me do a web learning presentation for Broward County (through Broward County Board of Education TV) and encouraged me to develop a way to present JazzSLAM nationally. Now, through the Center for Innovative Learning and Collaboration (cilc.org), we offer three eLearning programs nationwide, all of which are available for free to Title I schools. It has been really cool to hear from educators in tiny towns without supermarkets across the nation that they are using and loving JazzSLAM in their classrooms. It is one of my main goals for the future of JazzSLAM to continue to develop these programs so that JazzSLAM can reach even more students nationwide.

DCA: Which counties have participating schools? How many children participate each year?

Mari: The program mainly serves Broward County, though we have on occasion travelled to North Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. In the past 16 years, the program has served around 60,000 students in South Florida.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that JazzSLAM makes to your community?

Mari: It exposes students to the incredible musical heritage of our nation, which is jazz, while allowing more interactive academic experiences. Oftentimes jazz organizations have difficulty getting into school systems, but because our program is academically focused, that has opened doors.

JazzSLAM 2

DCA: What do you think the future holds for JazzSLAM?

Mari: I want to know that when I leave the planet that JazzSLAM won’t leave the planet with me. I think the future for us is in continuing to give live presentations and develop the eLearning programs, so that we can reach students throughout the state of Florida and the nation. I would also love to partner with a college or university to train future teachers in the JazzSLAM methodology. I’d love to find a doctoral student who would want to research the significance of JazzSLAM concepts and using music to teach academics.  I always want JazzSLAM to be part of Gold Coast Jazz Society and for GCJS to continue serving Broward County, but I also want the program to be able to spread. When you see how much the kids love to do it and how grateful the teachers are for this whole new approach to academics, it’s like a no brainer. I have to figure out a way to get this to more teachers– to everybody!

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Mari: Certainly here in South Florida, we see that arts and culture are a huge draw for snowbirds and tourists. When I was growing up in Palm Beach County, there was close to nothing to go to. There were no opportunities to hear live music other than if you went to a private party or a club or community center. There is certainly a much more vibrant arts community in South Florida than when I was a kid. The more we have for visitors and year-round residents to do, the happier everybody is with Florida!

The DCA thanks Pam Dearden, executive director of Gold Coast Jazz Society, and Mari Mennel-Bell for their participation in this post. To learn more about JazzSLAM, visit: http://jazzslam.com/. To learn more about Gold Coast Jazz Society, visit: http://www.goldcoastjazz.org.

Grantee Spotlight: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams

Marie Selby Gardens in Sarasota has enjoyed an overwhelming response this year to its Picture4latest exhibition featuring the artist Marc Chagall’s nature-inspired artwork and personal effects. The immersive exhibition, Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams, introduced a new way of examining the artwork of the prolific artist. The exhibition opened February 12 and continued through July 31, 2017.

The six-month exhibition garnered record-breaking attendance numbers to this 15-acre bayfront botanical garden. The visitor experience included a glass house conservatory where reproductions of Chagall’s nature-inspired stained glass were displayed among living plants. Visitors also strolled  the grounds of the gardens which were enhanced with flora that evoked the south of France, the land that inspired Chagall and where he spent much of the later part of his life.

Additionally, the exhibition included Chagall’s masterwork painting The Lovers (1937), on loan fromthe Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and two additional paintings loaned from a private collector that have not been publicly exhibited before. Also on view were archival photos and personal effects from Chagall’s studio.

Accompanying cultural performances, special events, classes and lectures supported the exhibition, along with a French-inspired menu served at the on-site cafe.

Photos © Matthew Holler. / Stained glass © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York ADAGP, Paris

 

Five questions for Lyudmilla Fuentes, VSA Florida Young Artist

by Jennifer Hoesing

VSA Florida sponsors the Florida Young Soloists program, now in its fifth year. A statewide call for musicians and vocalists with disabilities age 25 and under is sent each spring. Three prominent music professionals adjudicate the applications and select the top two as Florida’s nominations to the VSA International Young Soloists program. The Florida finalists appear with the Florida Orchestra. Today we have five questions for Lyudmilla Fuentes, one of this year’s Young Soloists.

Lyudmilla Fuentes

DCA: What do you enjoy most about making music?
Lyudmilla:  What I love the most about making music is that I feel completely free and that I can just let it all go. When and if I’ve had a bad day, I can start singing and all my cares in the world just float away. It’s my comfort zone, I guess I can say.

DCA: Why do you think it is important for people to make music?
Lyudmilla:  I believe that music is the universal language and that it tells a story in a language that other people from other countries can also understand. I also believe that in times of trouble, it can bring the world together.

DCA: Do you think you will always perform music?
Lyudmilla:  I am planning on pursuing my music as a career but also help those in need by raising money with my performances and bring awareness to people in other countries such as my homeland, Russia.

DCA: Who are your favorite musicians or artists?
Lyudmilla:  My favorite musicians are Bocelli, Anna Netrebko and Pavarotti.

DCA: Why are music and art important to Florida?
Lyudmilla: Music and art are important to Florida because they enhance cultural development and provide for a source of expression and human interaction.

Cultural Conversation: Heather Stuyverson

by Jennifer Hoesing

Today’s post is an interview with our talented new intern, Heather Stuyverson. Heather is pursuing a Master’s degree in arts administration at the Florida State University College of Music. Why did Heather choose an arts administration career? Read on to find out.

Heather Stuyverson wears many hats. Among them - rocking the Stratocaster. (photo submitted)

How long have you been involved in arts and culture?

The arts have been a part of my life ever since I was in my mother’s womb.  My mother –a ballet teacher 30 years of her life– taught dance while she was pregnant with me. At three years old my mother put me in dance classes and my experience with the arts began.  I continued to dance throughout my childhood, but it was until I was seven I discovered my true artistic passion, music.

The instrument that drew me to music was the guitar.  Throughout my life I have played various genres on the guitar, but I mainly focused on studying the genres of classical and jazz guitar during my studies as an undergraduate at The Florida State University College of Music.  In 2006, after completing a Bachelors of Arts in Commercial Music, I worked at a prominent studio in Nashville, TN and had an amazing experience in learning the process of the music industry.  Four years later, I decided to return to FSU to pursue a Masters in Arts Administration and to dedicate my career to working for non-profit arts organizations.

Today my continued involvement with the arts includes completing my masters degree, serving as the house manager for all of the Florida State University School of Dance performances, serving on FSU’s Friends of Dance board, working at the FSU College of Music Admissions office, working as an intern for the Division of Cultural affairs, teaching guitar to seven private students, and performing around town as a guitarist in various settings.

Why have you chosen arts administration as a career path?

The arts have helped shape me into the person I am today.  Whether it is an undeniable musical progression, a dance sequence, or a color scheme in a painting, the arts strike a chord within my soul.  They have impacted me to not only see life from different perspectives but they have also enhanced and broadened my views on life.

Yet when I observe my peers it seems the arts do not have the same impact on their lives.  My friends seem to have a lack of interest in attending a symphony, theater or dance performance.  Because of this I often wonder, “Is the concert arts audience dying and specifically, is it dying within my generation?”

In today’s culture, it seems to me that popular artists are reaching their audiences in ways that other artists are not.  I think there is somewhat of an emotional disconnect occurring within our culture in regards to specific art forms. In light this disconnect, I chose to pursue a career in arts administration first because of my passion for the arts, and second because of my desire to broaden the arts audience. 

What do you think arts and culture contribute to Florida?

The arts and culture industry contribute to the State of Florida both intrinsically and extrinsically.  I often think about how our world is painted in color and not black and white.  There is an indisputable beauty that surrounds us everyday in the nature of our world.  I believe arts and culture only enhance that beauty of our world and furthermore our state.  They help us identify who we are as individuals and who we are as Floridians.  The arts and culture help bring communities together and are monumental in the education of our children.

It’s also important for business-minded individuals to see how arts and culture contribute to Florida’s economy. The question is often raised, “Why should we invest in the arts over investing in something more practical?” It has been researched and proven that for every $1 that is invested in the arts, $5 is invested back into the economy of Florida.  That is a 500% return on investment!  As well, the arts and culture industry in Florida is the third largest industry in our state.  Thus arts and culture are creating jobs and furthermore attracting tourists to Florida.

What is the single greatest contribution of arts and culture to your community?

Although Tallahassee is considered a small town compared to some of Florida’s more metropolitan areas, we still have a wealth of amazing local arts organizations, universities who are known for the arts and an incredible local arts agency.  As a Tallahassee-born-and-raised girl, I have seen how the arts and culture build relationships right here in this community.  I believe that’s the single greatest contribution.  The arts bring people together and they unify community members under one purpose.  Relationships between art teachers and students, community chorus members, fellow actors in a play, just to name a few, are invaluable and only strengthen a community.

Who’s your favorite artist or musician?

How could I choose just one?  The musicians that have been the most influential to me as an artist are Ana Vidovic (classical guitarist), Pat Metheny (jazz guitarist), Alex Fox (flamenco guitarist), Dianna Krall (jazz artist) and Alison Krauss (as an all-around musician).

Cultural Conversation: The Intersection of Dance and Deviation

by Dr. Gaylen Phillips

David Neumann researches movement for RESTLESS EYE. Image courtesy of mancc.org.

When Dr. Karin L. Brewster, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Demography and Population Health at Florida State University, got a call from Ansje Burdick at FSU’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), she was a little puzzled. Choreographer David Neumann and his collaborator Sybil Kempson wanted a meeting with Karin to discuss statistics. David is a 2007 MANCC Choreographic Fellow who is currently on the FSU campus as a Visiting Artist where his work RESTLESS EYE is currently in development.

This piece is scheduled to premier at the New York Live Arts Partnership (supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts) on March 24, 2012. David and Sybil, accompanied by Ansje Burdick, MANCC’s Manager of Artist Services and Community Engagement, met with Karin on an October afternoon.

Dr. Karin Brewster

Karin didn’t know what to expect. What she did know is what David’s fact sheet said about his work: “Neumann’s company, advanced beginner group, will explore the realm between thought and behavior, between describing life and experiencing it . . . [they] will source various data sets and statistics based on everyday phenomena and translate this information into a deeply physical and human expression.” Sybil is developing the text.

“I liked David immediately; he has tremendous energy and charisma. What I really enjoyed was his curiosity. This drives his work,” Karin said.  David readily admits that his curiosity about everything has always been the biggest factor in his life and it is the most important tool in the development of his art. During this initial conversation, it became clear that David is interested in learning things that challenge his natural inclinations; he wants to follow where inquiry and process might lead with no preconceived ideas of the outcome.

Sybil, as the writer, was interested in the subjectivity of language/art versus the “hard rules” of science, and Karin responded that “science doesn’t exist without imagination.” But how do curiosity, data sets, and statistics translate into choreography? “That was the part I couldn’t grasp,” said Karin. “So the conversation with David and Sybil was fascinating.”

One thing the three talked about was the importance of repetition and variation to dance and to statistics; Karin even taught David and Sybil how to calculate a standard deviation, still not knowing how it would inform their work.  But, “when I attended his informal showing of the piece on October 27, I came to a new level of appreciation.” She laughed, “I’m not saying I fully understand how and what he does, but the process – the intellectual inquisitiveness – was a huge eye-opener for me. I had not thought about dance in such a way before. I now better appreciate the inspiration and originality that goes into choreographing a dance project, as well as the rigor. It was fascinating to see a performance piece in the making and, in particular, to realize the similarities in the process of creating a dance and ‘creating’ research. “

Karin was intrigued enough to ask to meet with David a second time; his visit on the FSU campus is limited and she said, “I don’t know whether this is silly, but it struck me during the October 27 showing as I listened to David explaining his process – particularly about the importance of data collection to his piece – that he might want to learn about how scientists evaluate the probability that their results represent what’s ‘true’ in the ‘real world.’ This evaluation process is where the standard deviation is truly important, and it reveals the leap of faith we make when we present our findings as reliable representations of reality.”

The second interview, then, took David a bit deeper into the underlying machinery of statistics, beyond the numbers to the realm of interpretation. “We can take ten random samples from the same population and get ten sets of statistics.  So, how do we know which set of statistics is right?  We can’t, but we can know that some sets are more likely to be right than others,” Karin recalls telling David.  “Statistics like dance is an approximation to something, a representation of some piece of the world.” This was an “aha!” moment for both of them as they realized the art of dance and the art of statistics are more connected than may at first seem obvious.

“This was one of the most fascinating and engaging encounters I have ever had,” Karin summed up. “David’s unique perspective has really given me some things to think about in my own research.”

Thanks to Karin Brewster, Ansje Burdick, Jennifer Caliennes, Ellie Couvault, Sybil Kempson and David Neumann.

Cultural Conversation: Five Questions for Grace Maloy

by Jennifer Hoesing

Grace Maloy headshotGrace Maloy is Executive Director of the Gadsden Arts Center in Quincy, Florida. Gadsden Arts Center provides exhibitions of fine art and art education to the people of Gadsden County, a rural county that is highly diverse culturally, racially and ethnically.

Gadsden Arts Center’s current exhibition, Dean Mitchell: Rich in Spirit, is on view through October 29, 2011. In addition, vernacular art from the Gadsden Arts Center collection is on view at the Gibbs Museum in Charleston, South Carolina through October.

Dean Mitchell PaintingSunshine in New Orleans by Dean Mitchell. Watercolor. 30 x 40 inches.  Now on view at Gadsden Arts Center.

DCA: How long have you had a career in the arts? How long have you worked in Florida?

Maloy: I supposed my career in the arts began in early childhood. My mother and both of her parents were fine artists, and mom often told stories of her beloved father, Rocco, who was a graphic designer and illustrator by trade. Our house was filled with original art, paintings by family members, paintings, drawings, and prints by their artist friends, handmade books, hand-crafted furniture. Many of my grandparents’ artist friends, like watercolorist Henry Keller, went on to become well regarded in the history 20th century art.

Growing up in a family of artists meant the family was raised with a particular approach to life, that a good life is achieved by design, and there is unlimited beauty in our immediate environment to appreciate. Growing up with an artist’s sensibility means that we have enjoyed a depth of awareness of our environment and ourselves that some people may not have.

I also drew and painted pictures from early childhood, as a natural form of thought and expression. By high school, I was asking my parents to enroll me in college-level art and design classes and drawing portraits for friends on commission. My first degree is in studio art, but I went on to learn commercial design and illustration, as my grandfather did. For some reason, I felt an emptiness in the  “working for a paycheck” life as a designer/illustrator, earned an Art Education Masters Degree, and taught high school art for a number of years. I love teaching art to teen-aged children, they are creative and thoughtful beyond measure.

All of this ultimately culminated in my present career as an arts administrator, a field I fell into without intent about 13 years ago, first as an Assistant Curator at the Center for the Arts, now known as the Vero Beach Museum of Art. What a fascinating field this is! We provide critical community services that are increasingly scarce. We are practical business managers, and at the same time, we are creative problem solvers and visionaries. We are inventing a field as we live it, responding to needs and challenges on an ever-changing basis. We are part of a larger family of nonprofit art professionals that move forward into an uncertain economy, seeing endless possibilities because the need is endless, rooted together in one foundation that is the expressive, unifying, thought provoking, enduring, healing, exciting power of art.

DCA: What is the single greatest contribution the Gadsden Arts Center makes to your community?

Maloy: I cannot really identify one overriding contribution. The Gadsden Arts Center completed a community survey last spring, with the aid of a highly experienced third party consultant, who spent about 100 hours interviewing members, donors, elected officials, and community leaders. Part of the process was to determine what they valued most highly in the Gadsden Arts Center. Their responses were the power of Gadsden Arts to draw diverse community groups together in a meaningful way; art education to help area children develop higher order thinking skills, self-discipline, and an avenue for self-expression; and cultural and historical content presented through our exhibitions.

DCA: What other challenges in your community have been addressed through the arts?

Maloy: I think the three greatest challenges addressed by the Gadsden Arts Center have been cross-cultural understanding, tourism and economic development and education.

First, cross-cultural understanding is addressed through the content of many exhibitions, and also through the very practical opportunity for volunteers to develop new social relationships here;

In terms of tourism and economic development, Gadsden Arts is broadly recognized for its historic buildings, museum-quality facilities, exhibitions and programs. We draw visitors from a broad geographic area, who enjoy their visit and leave with a positive impression that helps to dispel longstanding negative stereotypes of Gadsden County that are sometimes perpetuated in regional media.

And finally, education. Through the arts, children learn to solve problems creatively, finish what they start, evaluate the quality of their work, discuss complex concepts with others, and then enjoy visible, public recognition for good work and personal growth. Due to the recession, the arts have been cut from all district elementary schools this year. Gadsden Arts is working with area theatrical and music groups to provide art programs in the schools this year, in addition to existing programs and services for school children. The arts are critical to education – they are also therapeutic, and fun!