Both Thelonious Monk, the jazz pianist and composer, and Dizzy Gillespie, the jazz trumpeter, bandleader, singer and composer, would have turned 100 last October. For their centennials, District 97 music instructor James Barnard decided to make 2017-18 all about the two towering jazz figures.
During a recent interview, Barnard said roughly 90 percent of the music the Brooks Middle School jazz program has learned this academic year has been by Monk and Gillespie — who also happen to be among the most complex arrangers in all of jazz.
“Their music is difficult,” Barnard said, “but we figure out ways to arrange their pieces so that they’re a little more accessible for younger players.”
Members of the jazz program will perform a range of tunes — such as Monk’s “Stuffy Turkey” and Gillespie’s “Dizzy Atmosphere” — during the 11th Annual Brooks Jazz Night, at 7 p.m., on Wednesday, April 4, in the Brooks auditorium, 325 S. Kenilworth Ave. in Oak Park.
Barnard said his jazz musicians, along with the vocal ensemble program, will perform alongside the Northern Illinois University Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Reggie Thomas.
Before the evening performance, Brooks students will participate in rehearsals, workshops and clinics with the NIU musicians.
According to U.S. News & World Report, NIU’s graduate jazz studies program is ranked among the 10 best in the country. The NIU Jazz Ensemble has performed with famed artists like Clark Terry, Tito Puente — and Dizzy Gillespie.
“To have them come to our middle school is a big honor,” Barnard said. “They’ve been producing such high-caliber musicians for so many years.”
Barnard said exposing his students to musicians like Gillespie and Monk — whose works are centered on improvisation and experimentation — will be beneficial for the kids as they develop their own musical style.
“They love the variety of the music and the aspect of improvisation; being creative that way really helps them out intellectually,” Barnard said. “We spend a lot of time on improvised solos, which allow them to know it’s OK to take risks, try out new things and step outside their comfort zones.”
Barnard added that he was pleased to see how quickly the students latched onto Monk and Gillespie, given the artists’ reputations as relatively idiosyncratic composers.
“I was really surprised by how the kids appreciated the music from the get-go,” he said. “I thought it would be a tough sell and a stretch, considering the pop music they listen to, but they really liked it.”
Admission for the 7 p.m. concert at Brooks is $10 for adults and $5 for students 16 and under. Tickets may be purchased online through the D97 Webstore and reserved at the door at: oakpark.revtrak.net/Middle-Schools/BMS/BMS-Jazz-Night/#/list.