Jazz for living – Robert F Hall band plays at popular event

June 13, 2019   ·   0 Comments


During the tremendous Blues and Jazz Festival that spread its wings throughout the community and the wider area, with bands up and down the streets of Orangeville and in so many restaurants and venues all around the area, Saturday (June 1), the Jazz Band of Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School was playing on one of the sites on Broadway.

“We played from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., trading off time slots with the Orangeville Concert Band,” Frank Adriano told the Citizen.

Mr. Adriano is an English teacher at Hall, who also runs the jazz band, at R. F. Hall, and has done so for the past nine years. We took a few moments of his time, between the end of the school day and a staff meeting, to talk about the band and their gigs.

“This is my baby,” said he. “Last year, it was great, we did a tour of Ontario. It was five days and eight gigs.”

He added, “We played on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. There were gigs in downtown Toronto. We had the chance to play for the mayor of Toronto at a Trustees dinner. We played for David Tilson (MP) at a function. We toured with a 14-piece band.” 

All such tours require funding and it was McDonald’s in Orangeville that partially sponsored them.

“Whenever we play in the community, I insist on an honorarium” said Mr. Adriano. “We save those little amounts of money and that helped pay for the tour. The students generated funds themselves too. I was so proud of them.”

Learning music, participating with a group of musicians, is widely accepted as being extremely good for students; it improves their confidence and influences, to the betterment, their studies otherwise. Music is good for everyone at any age and to have a grounding in those early days is a gift for the rest of a person’s life. With that premise as a well-founded given, what is it about jazz, particularly, that captivates Mr. Adriano’s enthusiasm for his students and his own sake?

“It gives them an opportunity to find expression not found in other art forms – spontaneous composition, which we in the jazz world call improvisation. You can teach anybody to play and learn the music but do they have the guts to make heard their own voice?” 

The history of jazz goes back to the music created and sung and played by the Afro- Americans in the southern United States. As an acknowledged musical genre in itself, the word jazz seems to have come from a variety of sources, a slang word, “jasm” from the mid 1800’s, meaning energetic, peppy; something a baseball pitcher called a specific pitch. It had its first documented mention as a music form in the New Orleans’ paper, The Times Picayune, when a writer in that journal referred to “jas-bands.”

Always rather hard to define, to nail down in a strict way, what does set jazz apart from other music is improvisation, coming spontaneously in the middle of performing a song or piece that has its own melody and tune. The musician diverts away from this, to perform, as he or she will, “spontaneously composing” with his instrument or, for a singer, as a vocal scat

To play is to want to perform, to share the joy that is jazz. 

Indeed, Mr. Adriano is clear: “After twenty-five years of teaching, this is my raison d’être for me to be here.”

Teachers spend their lives meeting new students and years later, setting adrift into the wide world those students they have come to know well. So, it is this year for Frank Adriano.

“I’m losing several of my band this year,” he said with a certain sadness. “They’re leaving their ‘jazz nest.’ And now, it’s time to rebuild. I have two coming in at grade 9. They’ll be good.”

An English teacher, Mr. Adriano still teaches Shakespeare, which has been left to lapse in some classrooms in the country. 

He explained, “Once they learn the language of Shakespeare, this is the opportunity to hear it spoken and written as the best, the most profound genius in English. 

“And that can be said about jazz – you take the masters of the genres and they really give the basis for what is great. Learning to listen – when to say – when not to say – learning to applaud the genius of the masters.”

A couple of students from the well known musician and dancing Leahy family, “play the rhythm section. They don’t take the glory [of the front men] but the band relies on them completely. I love it.”

He went on, “There’s very little in education any more that allows creativity, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) has gone a little crazy; they forgot the “A” – arts – which is a necessary part of our very being.”

Meanwhile, “all these jazz players are academics,” he informed us,. “One of them just won a $10,000 scholarship at a university to study science.”

Harking back to the fabulous day they had playing at the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, Mr. Adrian commented, “Artistic Director, Larry Kurtz has been so supportive of us coming to the festival. He was great about inviting us to join in. What he and the others have done with this festival in Orangeville is fantastic.”

Mr. Adriano remarked that he is on the Advisory Board of the World of Jazz in Brampton and that his band is playing at the World of Jazz Festival in September 6, 7, 8.

He issued a warning to those in charge of planning the curriculum for schools in the future: “As Duke Ellington said, ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.’”



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