Jazz artist educates while playing guitar

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 13, 2006

Typically ticket holders travel to see a concert or show, but yesterday Linden’s George P. Austin Junior High School brought the entertainment to its gymnasium.

At 1 p.m. students were excused from their classes to enjoy a moment in jazz with Eric Essix and his five-member band to further their knowledge of music and its history.

“Before jazz, there was no drum set. It was just a big bass drum. Jazz musicians came up with the concept of a drum set,” Essix told the young crowd. “I suggest you research music. Go on the web. You’ll learn how Motown has influenced hip-hop music.”

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With Essix on guitar, Kelley O’Neal on saxophone, James “PJ” Spraggins on drums, Sean Michael Ray on bass and Kelvin Wooten on keyboard, the group showed it’s improvisational skills on well-known songs such as The Temptation’s “My Girl,” The Jackson 5’s

“I Want You Back,” and Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.”

And even though most of the playlist included songs older than the majority of people in the room, the crowd clapped and sang along to the famous tunes.

“Oh, this is my song,” one young student yelled as the “My Girl” beat began.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity for a cultural experience like this,” Austin principal Terry Gosa said. “We are very limited in this area when it comes to musical education. It was an enriching experience for the children to be exposed in this manner.”

“This is our way to give back to the community and educate the kids. We always hope they will walk away with more knowledge. I know all of them won’t take it in, but hopefully we can reach a few, ” Essix, a Birmingham native, said. “We could get up here and just play, but our goal is to educate, as well as, entertain.”

Austin’s school counselor, Gwen Rogers, said the concert gave the children a new appreciation for a different kind of music.

“The program was great and the kids were really excited,” Rogers said. “This really served as a teaching program, as well as, a learning one.”

The concert was brought to the school courtesy of a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the timing couldn’t have been any better, Gosa said.

“We want to start a marching band and we hope this will generate interest,” he said. “The fifth graders came to see it and they will be here next year, so we had the right audience.”

“It’s important to know your instrument well, and to be able to read music,” Essix told the students. “It’ like if I only spoke Spanish and you spoke English…If you don’t know the language of music, you can’t communicate with other musicians.”

After a question and answer period, fulfilling requests for Ray Charles and Luther Vandross songs, and signing their names to tiny scraps of paper, it was a wonder the group was able to make it out of the gym as the children screamed for more.

“One more,” a student from the top bleacher yelled.

“Fifteen more,” another student yelled.

“Y’all gone sit here until school is over and it’s night out,” a young man said.