A high school jazz program that shines

The recent decision to expunge jazz from Doug McIntyre's morning show on KABC radio — in a purported move to enlarge the show's audience — has stirred passions around the Southland.

Playboy Jazz Festival publicist Nina Gordon is surprised by the move. “It's ironic that they did that so close to International Jazz Day,” she says, “where the world honors jazz. It's tremendously popular all over the world, and very popular in L.A.

“There's a bigger taste for jazz here than most people realize,” she continues. “You see it in the many school jazz bands. Each day at Playboy Jazz starts off with a high school big band, and they're always a big hit with the audience.”

One of the most recognized high school jazz programs in SoCal is at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, which opened at Playboy Jazz in 2009. Under the direction of Jason Goldman, the LACHSA big band has won the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation competition an unprecedented four years in a row. It appears that there are high school jazz programs, and then there's the LACHSA jazz program.

Aside from dual faculty positions at LACHSA and the USC Thornton School of Music, Goldman is an accomplished composer/arranger whose clients have included Herbie Hancock and Michael Bublé. He will lead the LACHSA Big Band on Wednesday at Glendale's Alex Theatre.

Impresario and jazz activist Barbara Brighton produces her monthly Young Artists Jazz Series night at Catalina's in Hollywood (now in its 16th year), and she's seen Goldman and his LACHSA crew in action.

“They play every year for my anniversary show,” Brighton offers. “Jason always brings fine players who are headed for Berklee School of Music and other colleges on scholarships; the quality of his players is consistently high. What really impresses me is how well his bands work as teams. They all pull for each other, when they play together and when somebody takes a solo.”

A YouTube video of last year's LACHSA Big Band at the Monterey Jazz Next Generation Jazz Festival shows Goldman leading the band. They play a chart called “Make Me Smile” by jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer. It's an Expressionist piece with wide swaths of orchestral color over demanding time signatures, and a feature for alto saxophonist Jasper Dutz. He executes beautifully — making tight turns, jumping wide intervals and exhibiting a sharp-edge tone.

Veteran saxophonist Gary Foster has worked with Dutz, presently a senior, and LACHSA saxophonist Max Lesser as a private tutor. “The quality of instrumentalists I've seen from that school is very high,” Foster observes. “They're very serious about the music. These are lovely kids who are very focused.”

Jasper is the son of Brad Dutz, one of the busiest percussionists in the Hollywood studios. With more than a little paternal pride, Brad says of the school's jazz program, “Jason Goldman has the students playing at a professional level. I've gone to rehearsals and I like how he makes the kids laugh; but he takes them through some very difficult music. Right now, Jasper and some of the other players are in Boston working with other students their age for the Monk Institute.”

Reached in his Boston hotel room, Jasper (who heads to New York City's New School on a full scholarship after this school year) is exhilarated. “I was here in January,” he said, “and I've gotten the chance to play with great musicians like Antonio Hart, Herbie Hancock and the Clayton Brothers.

“What I've learned at school,” Jasper adds, “is that music is what I aspire to do with my life.”

Stirred passions can have good results.

KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) presents Spring Jazz 2012

Where: Alex Theatre, 216 North Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: 7:30 p.m., May 16.

Tickets: $16 (with discounted tickets for seniors, students and children under 12).

More info: (818) 243-2539, www.alextheatre.org.

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