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Students jazz it up with musician Mike Vax

By J.C Bryant
On March 14, 2012

  • Folk Festival McTeggart Irish Dancers of Louisiana perform to an upbeat song. Gary Woods

High school bands and combos embraced the musical atmosphere on NSU's campus last Saturday for the annual Jazz Festival. 

This event not only helps create new great jazz musicians, but also gives them a sneak peak of NSU's thriving jazz program and ambitious professors. 


The festival was spearheaded by the jazz directors who brought in clinician, critically-acclaimed trumpeter and bandleader Mike Vax. Vax served as one of the judges who critiqued each of the bands and after performances, held a clinic specific to each of the bands' needs.


In one of the sessions, Vax stressed the importance of jazz history.      


"How can you know why some artists are doing what they're doing today if you have no idea where that came from or how they were doing things before," Vax said. 


Vax explained that jazz music had to be a lifestyle -- not a hobby or something you pull out of the closet on the weekends when you want to have fun. 


"To be a good jazz musician, you have to be immersed in it. You have to live and breathe jazz music. Listen to as many artists as possible -- the classics -- get ideas from them and try to play like them," Vax said.                                 


He then went around the room and asked who some of the band members' favorite musicians were.


Vax also shared stories from his youth and helped the students to appreciate the amenities they have today. 


"We didn't have YouTube when I was learning jazz. If you wanted to hear jazz, you went out to a gig and you watched closely or you bought a record and played along to it. There were no books -- no sheet music -- no nothing,"  


He added, "There were just all these standards that you had to know if you wanted to get a gig. And when I graduated high school, I knew more than 200 charts by memory. But you guys really don't know how great you have it. You can do a search on YouTube and you can watch dead guys playing music! You guys really ought to be taking advantage of that. Spend some time on YouTube every day watching some of the jazz greats and learn from them."


It was obvious that all the students took a lot from the knowledge Vax shared. Even though his primary instrument is trumpet, he seems to be just as a strong a bandleader.


He offered insight to every member of each ensemble and showed a good grasp of the fact that musicians should work together and stressed this to the members.     


As a composer, one of his pieces "Naked Gun," was chosen as the theme song for the Naked Gun films. As a recording musician, he has performed on more than 75 albums, including 20 under his own name.


Vax hopes to continue sharing the things he has learned in more clinics nationwide.     

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