Having truly outstanding jazz bands is a tradition that just won’t die with the passing of a generation in two Ulster County school districts: Rondout Valley and Kingston. The durability of those legacies will be demonstrated this Tuesday, December 6, when superstar jazz drummer Mike Clark brings his Trio, along with keyboard player Jerry Z and local guitarist Matt Finck, to perform at Kingston High School (KHS) along with the KHS and Rondout Valley Middle School (RVMS) Jazz Ensembles. The lucky kids in those music programs, as well as that of Rondout Valley High School (RVHS), will receive expert coaching from these jazz masters in a workshop earlier that day.
The Rondout Valley jazz program was formed long ago under the tutelage of the late Ron Finck, in whose memory a scholarship fund for student musicians was established by his son Matt, now a music teacher and performer himself. In more recent times the Rondout Valley Seventh- and Eighth-Grade Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Jason Clinton, has worked with Steve Wilson, Paquito De Rivera, the Count Basie Big Band and members of the Chick Corea Band. Last year at the Music in the Parks Competition in Hershey, Pennsylvania, it received the Best Overall Jazz Band Award and First Place in the Middle School/Junior High Division. This group received a Level IV Gold with Distinction Rating at New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) Majors and has received over 20 consecutive Gold Ratings at the NYSSMA Majors Festival.
The RVHS Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Randolph Loder, is constantly in demand for local events in the Hudson Valley. Current member Alex Graf has been selected as the Number One guitarist in the state to perform with the All State Jazz Ensemble. Recently the Ensemble had the honor of premiering “A Place Above” by world-renowned trombonist Roswell Rudd.
The KHS Jazz Ensemble went on to extraordinary heights under the baton of Bob Shaut; in 2009, the Ensemble was a finalist in the nationwide Essentially Ellington Competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where the students worked with Wynton Marsalis and the entire Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The Jazz Ensemble has consistently performed the highest-level music in the NYSSMA festival and received Gold or Gold with Distinction ratings. So some people got very nervous about what would happen when Shaut retired from the district at the end of the 2010 school year.
Fortunately, Bob’s son Dan has since taken up the mantle, and things look to be going full speed ahead for the future. Under the direction of Dan Shaut, the Ensemble has worked with Chris Vadala, Jim Snidero, Tim Collins, the West Point Jazz Knights, Ron Carter, Dennis Mackrel and many other professional jazz musicians. The group performed at the NYSSMA festival in Rochester and the New York State Band Directors’ Association competition in Syracuse.
The concert at the Kingston High School Auditorium, located at 403 Broadway in Kingston, will start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 6. The Mike Clark Trio headlines, featuring Jerry Z and Matt Finck. Also featured will be the Rondout Valley Seventh- and Eighth-Grade Jazz Ensemble and the KHS Jazz Ensemble. It should be noted that the Finck and Shaut clans have a long history of playing together in a variety of groups including the Hudson Valley Jazz Orchestra, so it’s not too hard to see who’s at the bottom of this musical conspiracy.
Not to be confused with the late Michael Clarke, former drummer for the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mike Clark is one of America’s foremost jazz and funk drummers. He first made his name while playing with Herbie Hancock’s group the Headhunters in the 1970s, but also bears the honorific of “the Tony Williams of funk.” Besides Hancock, he has performed with such jazz greats as Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Tony Bennett, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Eddie Henderson, Rob Dixon, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw, Donald Harrison, Larry Coryell, Jack Wilkins, Mike Wolff, Wallace Roney, Geri Allen, Billy Childs, James Genus, Bob Hurst, Chris Potter, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Dave Liebman, Nat Adderly, Oscar Brown, Jr., Bill Doggett, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Mose Allison, Maxine Brown and Gil Evans,
Tickets for this concert will be sold at the door for $15 general admission, $8 with student ID. For reservations call (845) 514-2079. Proceeds will help support the Music programs at both school districts, which have suffered severe budget cuts in the past several years due to Draconian reductions in state support for public education, especially perceived “frills” like Art and Music. Donations in support of this event may be sent to JWB Jazz at J. W. Bailey Middle School, 118 Merilina Ave. Extension, Kingston, NY 12401, ATTN: Dan Shaut; and to Rondout Valley Middle School Band, Attn: Jason Clinton, Rondout Valley Middle School, 122 Kyserike Road, Accord, NY 12404.