Voila! Jazz à l’Ecole! Time to Take up the Cudgel Again in the UK?

Basil Guéguen: a new Colin Bowden?

Earlier this month Jazz&Jazz featured Fest Jazz, a hugely successful annual jazz festival at Chateauneuf du Faou in Brittany, France, and the inspiration of Trevor Stent and his Anglo-French Good Time Jazz. What struck me most was the appeal of Fest Jazz to teenagers and children and Trevor’s innovative involvement in “Jazz à l’Ecole”. Followers of Jazz&Jazz and my facebook Jazzers Group will probably realise just how keen I am to see the tide turned by promoting emerging younger jazz bands and ensuring a renewed allure of jazz to younger fans. So I invited Trevor to reveal more about his success in introducing jazz, yes jazz, to schools and colleges in Brittany. 

In his conclusion Trevor states: “I don’t see why similar ventures would not be possible in UK schools. If the Head teacher is enthusiastic and the idea is presented well I am sure funding could be found.” Before it wound up, The Ken Colyer Trust ran a programme for jazz in schools. 

Is it not time to take up the cudgel again? Your thoughts, opinions and ideas would be welcome. Simply submit them using the Comment Box at the foot of this feature. So over to Trevor.

“Jazz, yes jazz, is now part of their curriculum!”

Malo Mazurié: “The Breton Bix”

Châteauneuf-du-Faou is a tiny village in deepest rural Brittany. The setting is spectacularly beautiful and yet it’s cut off from the real world in so many ways. For instance, the day after 9/11 in 2001 the local paper featured Coypu Paté on the front page and the atrocity in New York was relegated to page five!

Even today, in many ways the village is still the 1950’s and the villagers are steeped in tradition, including a charming style of Breton music all of their own. There is no background of jazz in Châteauneuf-du-Faou and yet the locals have proved to be enthusiastically receptive to our style of music and to “Good Time Jazz”, an Anglo-French band which I launched soon after moving to Brittany. So much so that jazz, yes jazz, is now part of their educational curriculum!

Jazz in the Colleges

It began in 2010 when we proposed a project to take jazz into the local schools with a series of concerts in the Primary Schools and Colleges, funded – yes funded – by the local authorities! They were so enthusiastically received that we dared to suggest that there was scope for more than the occasional concert. Indeed why not integrate jazz into the educational curriculum!

Thanks to the co-operation and enthusiasm of the staff at the local college here in Châteauneuf-du-Faou, where Good Time Jazz is based, we now present jazz in the rich context of USA history – the slavery and segregation, the Depression, the struggle for Civil Rights etc etc. We visit the school four or five times a year. The students study the songs (for instance the famous Billie Holiday rendition of “Strange Fruit”  and Nina Simone’s “I wish I knew how it was to be free” ). They learn about their historical context, the style of music, the artists who sang them. It helps with their English too as they must understand the lyrics. So the project involves the French, Music, English and History teachers. The results of their study are then the basis for a presentation which has to be done as part of their “Brevet” (very roughly, the equivalent of GCSE).

It has been a real success and next year a college in a neighbouring town will also be taking part.

Louis Benoit: now he plays clarinet in St Tropez with the excellent “Jazz à Bichon”

We also work with the local School of Music (Ecole Korn Boud, Spézet, everything is in Breton here!) and took part in a great project last year. We played eight concerts in five primary schools, each one followed up by the teacher from the Music School. The results were unbelievable. In March, 300 children in two concerts, watched by 500 happy parents, sang jazz songs accompanied by “Good Time Jazz”. We even discovered some great 10 year old “Scat” singers! Unfortunately we haven’t yet discovered a new Django Reinhardt nor a Breton Sydney Bechet but it’s early days and, more importantly, hundreds of young people have discovered that jazz is “accessible”. It’s music to be embraced, not to shun.

But it doesn’t end in the schools! We invite, free of charge, all the Music School and college students to our regular monthly concerts at the Bar Tal ar Pont in the village and also, of course, to Fest Jazz, our hugely successful festival, in July. Anyone who plays an instrument is welcome to jam with “Good Time Jazz”. And they come!!! So do their parents! That is perhaps our greatest success.

One thing leads on to another. A sixth former who helped during the jazz festival weekend has persuaded his lycée to organise a concert for “Good Time Jazz” in January. Obviously we’ll be delighted to turn up!

Good Time Jazz drummer, Gérard Macé, inspires his young students!

In France all musicians must be paid. You cannot play for free, it’s against the law! And the bureaucracy involved is a cross between the last days of the Soviet Union and Alice in Wonderland! At first our projects were paid for by profits from Fest Jazz but then we succeeded in getting funding from the French equivalents of British local authorities and, although French bureaucracy is mind blowing, once you fight your way through it you find that the state finances the arts and culture on a much bigger scale than in the UK.

So what about in the UK?

Yet I don’t see why similar ventures would not be possible in UK schools. If the Head teacher is enthusiastic and the idea is presented well I am sure funding could be found. A year-long project is certainly more beneficial than a quick, one-off concert, and far more constructive to “sell” to the authorities.

Video – in French but A MUST WATCH!

This short amateur video gives an idea of us in action. It’s a bit serious and obviously in French but I can help to explain what is happening:

Delphine, our young Communications Manager for Fest Jazz, is explaining that the project aims at putting jazz in the context of the USA’s history, making jazz “accessible” and attracting young people to join in the festival fun. The three students interviewed at the end are saying that it’s good to hear jazz at a “mini-concert” in their classroom because they don’t usually get to hear it. They like the proximity of the musicians. They also say that they are doing a project on racism and that the songs they have studied with us have been highly pertinent and have helped them a lot.

Trevor Stent, Leader of Good Time Jazz


So how about it UK? Vivre Jazz à l’Ecole! Vivre Fest Jazz!

All set for the 2013 Jazz Fest

Dennis Harrison (Blue Mags), is organising a trip to Fest Jazz  next year.  The dates are 26th, 27th, and 28th July 2013. The cost is £300pp, based on two people sharing, which includes coach, ferry, hotel, stroller tickets for three days. Anyone interested should contact Dennis by email or phone.   Email address is thebmjo@gmail.com  and phone number is 07710881108. Numbers are limited to 50 places.

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