Diego Rivera, associate director of jazz studies and director for Octet I, said in previous years, the guest artist toured around the state, performing at different schools.
Although the online event is a replacement for the in-person performances and classes, Rivera tried to make this event, as well as his own online teaching, worthwhile.
“I was very intentional about making it a different experience, not trying to make it a compromised in-person experience but a really beneficial and robust virtual experience,” Rivera said.
Jazz Events Coordinator Max Colley III said the switch to online, although abrupt, helped reach broader audiences.
“It’s kind of like jazz where you have to improvise,” Colley said. “It’s been good, and (I’m) thankful for Zoom and technology to still have an offering of outreach to the students around the country.”
He also appreciates all of the artists’ participation.
“These artists are really some of the greatest musicians that have ever lived on the planet,” Colley said. “They’re completely down to earth, they understand the value of education and outreach and understand that in order to keep our art form alive, we got to continue to have education.”
Now, McPherson is participating from his home in San Diego. He is a previous Detroit resident and joined the music scene in the 1960s, known as a legend by many.
“McPherson brings so much information and personality and has been around so long, always passing along stories and eyewitness accounts of your history,” Colley said. “And just growing up in Detroit, it’ll be fun to hear what jazz was like for him.”
Looking into his history, Rivera thinks McPherson’s stories will impact the program in a great way.
“Our program is based a lot on the musical traditions and educational traditions and really the jazz traditions of Detroit,” Rivera said. “Charles McPherson is one of Detroit’s most celebrated musicians, so it’s like a homecoming in a sense. We feel that our program is built along the same lines and using the same principles and ideals that Charles McPherson helped to establish.”
The fertile music scene in Detroit is a big part of McPherson’s experiences to share with the students.
“I can just show them what I know and growing up in Detroit was a wonderful school to grow up in,” McPherson said. “And just impart some of the knowledge or as much as I can to them.”
Jazz students use these webinars as an opportunity to extend their learning.
“I’m happiest for the students because it’s precisely why we have programs like this, for the benefit of our students,” Rivera said. “We force them into interaction with some of these great jazz artists.”
First-year graduate student Kasan Belgrave plays alto saxophone for Octet I.
“To be able to interact with living legends of jazz music is such an honor and privilege that we have this platform to be able to do that,” Belgrave said. “I’m very excited and looking forward to talking to him.”
He said he also admires the jazz scene in Detroit. His father Marcus Belgrave has performed with McPherson at the Detroit Music Festival.
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“You have a city like Detroit where the history is so rich and there’s a bunch of stories and a bunch of legends that have been told over time and to see Charles, I been looking up to him my whole life,” Kasan Belgrave said. “... Just to be able to have somebody like that and for us to be able to perform is such an incredible privilege.”
Kasan Belgrave hopes to learn tips to improve his craft with the alto saxophone and more about the culture of jazz.
“(I’m) just trying to learn how to be a better social advocate for the music and how to just be a better person in life in general,” Kasan Belgrave said. “Having somebody like him, he’s such a legendary musician. So, anything that he has for advice we just have to take it in.”
Graduate assistant Stephen Grady Jr., who plays baritone saxophone for Octet I, said throughout his participation with artists in residence programs, he notices similarities.
“What I’ve found is that actually with a lot of people, especially when you’re dealing with people in the same field, there’s a lot of overlap and interplay between ideas,” Grady said. “So, it’s interesting to look at that relationship.”
Grady felt inspired after hearing about McPherson playing with Charles Mingus.
“He just talked about his experience playing with Charles Mingus and how influential Charles was and how that influenced him in his own career,” Grady said. “It was really inspiring to see someone that has such a close upbringing that I do, to see him really make it.”
Grady grew up in Oak Park, but his musical experience flourished in Detroit, where Marcus Belgrave taught him.
“It’s just a wealth of talent in Detroit and just creative expression,” Grady said. “We just have a rich, artistic community between musicians, artists, dancers, filmmakers. So, it’s just cool to be able to see (McPherson) talk about it, even his upbringing. Education was a huge part of it.”
“Detroit supplied the early foundation of things,” McPherson said. “Your life experiences and music experiences later on, for me, also add to who I am and what I am musically and as a thinker. Everything matters, everything comes. So, if I can just share some of my thoughts and information with the students, then that’s what I’ll do.”
He learned about growth in the music industry.
“It was beautiful to see that, and it was inspiring,” Grady said. “It taught me to continue to grow in every stage of your life. The older you get, just continue to grow, continue to learn, continue to be focused on your craft and embrace the positive things and just to try to ignore the negatives.”
McPherson hopes the students he teaches in this program, as well as in past and future programs, keep an open mind.
“(I would advise them) to always listen to everything, even things you don’t like,” he said. “Just to be open and just be open to new ideas and to look at things, even old ideas, in a fresh way and be ready to receive information. And also to keep in mind that the information that you absorb is your own individual behavior and choices that makes you develop your personal style.”
He also wants to learn something from the program.
“I’m always open and learning for new ways to cause the door to open for students,” McPherson said. “Doing what I’m doing now with the school, it’s just one more opportunity to exercise language in producing, causing the right information to be distributed to the students and doing it in the right way.”
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