International Jazz Week in Santa Cruz County Schools

Superintendent Michael Watkins with the International Jazz Musicians
Superintendent Michael Watkins with the International Jazz Musician

This year, Prince H. Lawsha, percussionist and singer, performed for several of our county’s schools along with renowned musicians including trumpet and flugelhorn player Oscar Williams, bass player James Leary, and two women jazz musicians from the Royale Swedish Academy of Music, Terese Lien Evenstad on jazz violin and Anna Greta on keyboards.

Together, this magical group of 5 jazz artists spent a week in our county’s schools playing jazz hit’s like “East of the Sun,” Green Dolphin Street,” and “Just Friends,” to more than 400 students. Dawan Muhammad, film director, documented the entire set of school events. This video documentary will be placed in the video library of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in the near future.

Prince is a multi-faceted musician whose talents include performer, composer, manager and record producer. He is also the owner and executive director of QS Music Productions since 1979. As a percussionist, Lawsha believes that “Music is the magic of the world. Music evokes emotions and rhythms are the unifying force, the heart of that emotion.”

Jazz Musician Prince Lawsha with Superintendent Michael Watkins
James Leary entertains the students with his great sense of humor and amazing skill on the bass.
James Leary entertains the students with his great sense of humor and amazing skill on the bass.

Four years ago, Prince decided he wanted to bring International Jazz Week to Santa Cruz County schools. Working with our Superintendent Michael Watkins, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education supports Prince and his work with UNESCO/Paris, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Monk Institute/Washington D.C. to bring International Jazz Week to Santa Cruz.

Prince passed along messages to the students about the interrelationships of music, mathematics, and science. He encouraged the high school students to study and stay focused on their passions for learning, both in their academic classes and in the arts.

On Monday morning, Superintendent Michael Watkins joined the students and their principal, Craig Broadhurst, at New Brighton Middle School. The students walked into their multi-purpose room hearing the smooth sounds of Oscar Williams and the heartbeat of James Leary’s bass. James had all the adults and students laughing by infusing his playing with nursery rhymes and then explaining how “I wrote that little song.” His comedic moments mixed with his, Oscar’s, and Prince’s knowledge of the history of jazz, their experience with other great jazz artists such as Max Roach, Thelonius Monk, Ray Charles, the Count Basie Orchestra, and Nancy Wilson made for impressive discussions and question and answer sessions during the week.

The smooth sounds of Oscar Williams - every middle schooler is enraptured.
The smooth sounds of Oscar Williams – every middle schooler is enraptured.

Other impressive and moving moments were listening to Anna and Terese describe their journeys as musicians and their paths that led them into jazz. They also explained the challenges of being women jazz musicians to a group of students in Beth Hollenbeck’s music class at Scotts Valley High School. At Mountain Elementary School, the K-6th grade students started singing in their sweetest voices “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as James played it on his bass. At Sequoia School, a young woman who had never heard jazz before and was doing her best to make sense of this kind of music, astutely asked, “How do you dance to this music?” At the end of the week, the musicians got a standing ovation at Santa Cruz High School. It was enlightening for all the students to hear how the beat and the rhythms of jazz lay at the roots of today’s Hip Hop music. In fact, the musicians explained how hip hop is like one of the relatives of jazz music. Some say hip hop is one of the children of Jazz. Rene McLean Sr., alto saxophonist, explains, “I don’t make distinctions between jazz and hip hop because one’s existence is dependent on the other. It is just another manifestation of creative expression as a link to the reality of black folks and black youth in particular. Jazz has always had to deal with where a people are in that time and place in their history and how they view their world and the communities they came out of—whether or not they have had access to cultural programs, whether or not they have been exposed to music or art in their communities and the schools they go to.”

Prince’s goal and vision is to see International Jazz Week take root in Santa Cruz County schools so that every student can have access to its rich history and culture, an understanding of its connection to mathematics and science, its improvisational quality, and its timeless magnificence.

The Band answers questions at a local elementary school.
The Band answers questions at a local elementary school.
Terese Lien Evenstad and Anna Greta share their experiences about being women jazz musicians.
Terese Lien Evenstad and Anna Greta share their experiences about being women jazz musicians.

Local high school students experience the power and beauty of jazz.

  Dawan Muhammad, film director and saxophonist, introduces the band.
Dawan Muhammad, film director and saxophonist, introduces the band.