Jazz music alive and well at Saddleback

HORNS (Claire Cote/Lariat 2009)

David Gutman

Black History Month brings up many images, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, the civil rights movement, changes in the art world, and of course, jazz.

“My first public performance of jazz music was actually at a playboy lounge,” said Joey Sellers, a jazz instructor and director of the Saddleback Big Band.

“I had to promise my teacher that I wasn’t to speak of this to my parents, for obvious reasons. After all, I was 15,” Sellers said, laughing.

Sellers began his teaching career at North Illinois University in 1999 and moved to Orange County to teach at Saddleback in 2002. The main classes he teaches are Jazz Band, Jazz Composition, and History of Jazz.

“The main thing about jazz music is that it features improvisation as personality,” Sellers said. “That way no two musicians are necessarily the same.”

Sellers was first exposed to jazz music as a young boy by his mother, who was a member of the International singing club Sweet Adelines and was the international president for the group.

During high school, Sellers first began his career as a formal musician after encouragement from his music directors.

As the instructor of one of the general education classes, History of Jazz, Sellers knows quite a bit about the subject. Jazz was so popular in the 1920s because it was a style of music made for dancing and was so different than the music of the time, according to Sellers.

Jazz was conceived in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and was primarily a music form looked down upon because it was made and developed by black people. Sellers explained, however, that jazz really was a great genre of music, despite its reputation. Jazz eventually moved on to the forefront of a legacy of talented musicians and composers, both black and white.

“American people had been searching, whether they realize it or not. They were searching for a way to break from Europe. Jazz music was exactly that, uniquely American.” Sellers said.

The first jazz band, according to Sellers, was a group in 1895 in New Orleans called the Spasm Band. The group was comprised of seven young boys aged twelve to fifteen. According to Sellers, the first jazz recording was made as early as 1917, and this was known to be the catalyst in launching jazz music as the cultural phenomenon it was in that era.

When asked who was the most influential in jazz music, Sellers lists those in his history books. He references his personal favorites, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltraine, and Ornette Coleman.

“Music changes constantly, jazz was very popular in the 1920s but that eventually led to rock and roll,” Sellers said. “Some jazz musicians reinvented jazz to be a hybrid of all of these art forms and to stay fresh.”

This constant reinvention of jazz music is where improvisation comes back into the genre. To keep the music current, artists labor to continually bring their work back into society, according to Sellers.

“Now in the 21st century, jazz only makes up for about three percent of all commercial sales in America,” Sellers said. “But the people that represent that three percent are die-hard jazz fans. Further proof that jazz is not going to die soon is the fact that there are jazz music festivals happening almost constantly.”

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