From 713 to 212: Houston jazz stars invade the New York scene
The New York Times' Ben Ratliff gave Houston's own High School for the Performing and Visual Arts considerable recognition in an ArtsBeat article this week, specifically spotlighting former HSPVA Jazz program director Robert Morgan.
Twenty five of Morgan's former students who are now making their livings playing jazz in New York City gathered Friday and Saturday nights at the 92nd Street Y in TriBeCa for a concert series-cum-high school reunion.
Morgan caught up with CultureMap shortly after returning from NYC and gave us the skinny on the show and some reassurance about H-Town's obvious talent bleed:
CultureMap: How did this concert come together?
Robert Morgan: (Houston jazz musician)Jason Moran — it was all his idea. He was in town back in the fall and mentioned it to me then, that he had this idea to get together in one weekend all the HSPVA graduates that were in New York that were doing so well.
At the time, the 92YTribeca was a fairly new performance spot, and they were looking for new thing that may be of interest. What's amazing is that for all those kids, this seemed so important that they all kept the weekend open. Mark Kelley, a bass player that was there, could have been out of the country but turned it down so he could be there.
CM: What did this weekend mean to you?
RM: There were about 25 graduates of HSPVA scattered over two nights. It was incredibly good and very high energy. The first night Jason concentrated on two or four people who are more singer/songwriters, and as the Times review put it, it was almost like folk jazz.
The second night was more straight-ahead, modern jazz starting with the older guys, then Jamire Williams' group and Kendrick Scott's group and then ending with Robert Glasper and Jason Moran with two keyboards and two drummers, and they just started playing. It was just one of those magic moments that I, for one, will never forget.
CM: How did the New York Times get involved?
RM: The New York Times has two jazz critics — Ben Ratliff, who wrote the review, and Nate Chinen, who actually visited HSPVA after I retired [in 1999]. I know they're both very aware of HSPVA and very aware of the students. I subscribe to the NYT daily and have read any number of laudatory reviews. I did meet Ben Ratliff last year when he was on a book tour and was amazed that he knew who I was.
CM: So many of your students have ended up in New York City — should we be worried about losing local talent?
RM: New York is the place to go. Among professional reasons, several of the major universities for studying jazz are in New York — the main one is called the New School, and a lot of our kids are recruited very heavily. It's almost like a football situation. I know Robert Glasper went there, and Jason Moran went to the Manhattan School of Music. Of the 25 students that played these weekend concerts, virtually every one went to New York for school or to Berklee in Boston and invariably, once they graduate, they move to New York.
And, I mean, I encourage that. Before I retired, some parents would get upset with me. You can't beat the University of North Texas [where Morgan graduated] but the thing is, once you graduate, you pretty much have to move to New York to get established. Even now, with airports everywhere and the ease of communication, it's still hard to find a successful jazz musician who didn't spend their formative years in New York.
All of the 25 are out of school and in NYC making a living making jazz music. I'm prejudiced, but I'll say it's extraordinary. I kind of get misty eyed every time I read that.