Blue Note: The Butler Youth Jazz Program | Butler Stories
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Blue Note: The Butler Youth Jazz Program

BY Marc Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Mar 26 2019

Kent Hickey snaps his fingers—one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two. The drummer kicks in—CH-ch-ch, CH-ch-ch, along with the piano—doo-doo-dah-doo-doo.

"Good afternoon, everybody," the Butler University senior trumpet/jazz studies major tells the audience. "We're very excited to be here on a Sunday afternoon at the Jazz Kitchen."

Hickey introduces the five-piece band, and it launches into Charles Mingus' Nostalgia in Times Square, segueing into Henry Mancini's Days of Wine and Roses.

It's the final day in the spring session of the Butler Youth Jazz Program, and the musicians—students from local high schools and middle schools—are getting a chance to show what they've learned. They've been rehearsing for two hours every Sunday for eight weeks, and now they're finishing with a concert in front of  about 200 friends and family members.

"It's been a real pleasure working with these guys," Hickey says from the stage. He serves as a Teaching Fellow in the Butler Community Arts School, which administers the Youth Jazz Program, and has taught at summer jazz camps, as well as during the school year, for almost all of his time at Butler. "These guys are really special. They're really hard workers. They practice their parts and they're ready to play at every rehearsal. Great questions, really curious."

Hickey's band—the second of three that will perform—finishes with Duke Ellington's Caravan, then yields the stage to the program's 17-piece big band for three songs. The last of those is a version of Freddie Hubbard's Crisis.

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The Butler Youth Jazz Program is Associate Professor of Music Matt Pivec's brainchild. Pivec brought the idea with him from California State University, Stanislaus, where he taught previously.

In California, he was responsible for everything in the program—attracting students, teaching, scheduling, and more. At Butler, he teamed up with the Butler Community Arts School (BCAS), which offers a variety of affordable arts instruction to anyone ages 5 and up, including adults. hat enables Pivec to recruit and teach.

"My job is easy," Pivec says after the concert. "You get great kids in a room with really good teachers and let them learn great music. Then, usually, good things happen."

The Youth Jazz Program yields numerous benefits. Butler's Jazz Studies program gets an early look at local talent, as well as the opportunity to recruit those students to Butler. The Butler students who serve as Teaching Fellows get to hone their teaching skills and work with older, more experienced teachers and professionals who are part of the program.

As for students in the program, they learn to play together and develop self-confidence. They meet other musicians they might never have met otherwise, and they get to raise their talent level. Pivec says he's seen several students arranging jam sessions and gigs on their own through the relationships they've made through the program.

"That's really special," he says. "That comes with working hard at something and getting better at it—and being recognized for it, too."

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Mitchell Remington understands that. Remington, now a senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis, started in the Butler Youth Jazz Program when he was a sixth-grader.

"There's a really wide spectrum of skills in the program," he says, "so the learning curve gets pretty steep. But it's cool to have an environment outside of school. The teachers know where you're at and they respect it and they really help."

Mitchell's mother, Lynn, heard about the program from the band director at his middle school and thought it would be a good fit for her son. He was a little younger than students were supposed to be, but she contacted Pivec, who offered Mitchell an audition. He passed.

"It's become his passion," Lynn says. "He's in the jazz band in high school. This allows him so much more of an outlet for him to learn, collaborate with other musicians, and play with a group that's different from what he experiences at school."

"We've tried to encourage his friends to do it," adds Mitchell's dad, Grant. "Other people I know, if they have kids who are interested in jazz, we tell them, ‘you've gotta get down there and try it’. Because it really is a great program."

Mitchell says he's been able to parlay what he's learned through the program and the friendships he's made into gigs in the Indianapolis area.

"And all of them are with people I've met here—whether it's an instructor or a Butler student or another student I'm in a combo with," he says. "The networking piece of this has been huge for me."

And in the fall, Mitchell will be a first-year student at Butler.

Blue Note: The Butler Youth Jazz Program

Students are able to parlay what they learn through the program into gigs in the Indianapolis area.