‘Freakishly Fabulous:’ The Big Band is What’s Right With America, Education

News in the world is depressing me right now, and I’m a three-newspaper-a-day kind of person, someone who affectionately calls herself a news junkie.

So if you’re like me, you need something uplifting and good right about now … like watching members of the Southborough middle school jazz band — the jazz group I profiled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band — play their hearts out for their wildly dedicated band director, Mr. Clark.

I attended the group’s annual Jazz Night last week and was, as usual, blown away by the “freakishly fabulous” way in which this band performed. (WICN’s Howard Caplan initially coined the “freakishly fabulous” adjective when describing the Trottier Middle School Big Band; he even brought a handful of T-shirts saying “Freakishly Fabulous” to Jazz Night, at which he introduced Mr. Clark.)

The concert was exactly what I needed, what everybody needs. As we watch sobbing migrant children being wrenched from their parents’ arms along our border with Mexico, as unbridled political strife seems to be scorching and permanently dividing us, seeing middle school children simply play music and publicly shower their teacher with affection and admiration, to see parents and members of the public bathe the students and their teacher in praise, to watch Mr. Clark strive valiantly to hold back his genuine tears at the end of the 2017-2018 school year as his eighth graders prepare to leave the school and his band room, is to lift one’s heart.

My spirits were indeed lifted when I heard the band’s rendition of the 2013 Erik Morales tune “Kaleidoscope” (see above video), written in memory of Eric Green, the Trottier seventh grade Big Band trumpet player who died unexpectedly in his sleep in January 2012. The year of grief and healing students experienced in the aftermath is chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band. So to hear these students — many years removed from the raw emotions of Eric’s death — play this piece with such verve, brought joy to my heart. Meanwhile their playing of Late Night Diner (see video below) was just, in Mr. Clark’s whispered words … bad ass.

THIS is what and who we are, what America can be. People working hard, working together, trusting one another, being emotionally honest with one another, coaxing the best out of one another, loving one another. That’s why, when I left the Trottier auditorium last week on a clear and warm mid-June evening, I felt a glimmer of hope amid the current darkness, and I’m certain it was more than just the glint of the light bouncing off the students’ shiny instruments.

watch the 2017-2018 big band in action

The current Big Band members at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. — led by the larger-than-life music director Mr. Clark, of Mr. Clark’s Big Band fame — are continuing to carry on the school’s tradition of sharing their music with their unique brand of unbridled enthusiasm.

33784860_2243272132366728_5795502403910369280_nThe Trottier Middle School’s Facebook page recently featured a video of the 2017-2018 Big Band playing “Uptown Funk” during a school assembly. Seeing the joy on the faces of the middle school students reminded me of the Big Band students I observed during 2012-2013 school year, whose journeys I chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room. I really miss the time I spent in the Trottier band room observing Mr. Clark and those students hone their skills and tell really bad jokes.

However …  I’ll get an opportunity to revel in Big Band tunes during their June 14 Jazz Night performance at the Trottier Middle School at 7 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society.

You can get an audio preview of this year’s Big Band repertoire by listening to the middle school musicians perform on WICN 90.5 FM Jazz+ for New England on Howard Caplan’s “The Saturday Swing Session” on Saturday, June 9 between 11 a.m. and noon.

*To watch the video of “Uptown Funk” performance, click here*

‘Mr. Clark’s’ signings at Jazz Night & Tatnuck

jazz night 2017Thank you to all the folks who bought books at my recent book signings. It has been an absolute pleasure to meet current and former music students, current and former music teachers, hosts of radio jazz programs (like WICN’s Howard Caplan and Tom Nutile) as well as fans of an uplifting story about a band director helping his students find their way.

Trottier Jazz Night

I was honored to appear at Jazz Night at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, along with my drummer son Jonah (see above), a former member of the Trottier Big Band who just graduated from high school (*sniff*).

I met current Trottier Big Band members who excitedly told me their own Mr. Clark stories, and spoke with professional musician/trumpet player/vocalist Christine Fawson, who performed with the Big Band, about teachers who make an impact on their students.

To see what kind of magic Clark inspires, take a look at what his current eighth grade Big Band members did at the end of Jazz Night 2017 (see video above). As a surprise gift to their band director at their final performance as middle schoolers, the students taught themselves Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and played it for him. At the song’s conclusion, you can see Clark is the first one to leap to his feet to applaud.

Additionally, I learned that Trottier Middle School has added Mr. Clark’s Big Band to its summer reading list.

tatnuck signingTatnuck Books

A local independent book store, Tatnuck Books in Westborough, MA (right), hosted a book signing for me where a retired music teacher told me she’d read about the event in the local newspaper and was looking forward to reading the tale that reinforces what she already knows deep within her bones: music education makes a tremendous difference to children.

As if to put an exclamation point on the teacher’s statement, a former Westborough music student later told me she not only bonded tightly with her middle school music teacher, but that she sorely misses her band room days.

Southborough Public Library

southborough library

My local library in Southborough — the Massachusetts town in which Mr. Clark’s Big Band is set — used social media to kindly promote the fact that they’d added Mr. Clark’s Big Band to their shelves.

Jazz Night 2017: See the Current Mr. Clark’s Big Band in Person

jazz night 2017 flierWant to hear what Mr. Clark’s current Big Band sounds like in person?

Come to Jazz Night at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. on Thursday, June 15 at 7 p.m.

Jazz Night has been the capstone event to the Trottier Big Band’s year for eight years running. It features a guest musician and a sampling of the myriad pieces the middle school jazz musicians have played throughout their year.

During the 2012-2013 school year I chronicled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, the band played sixteen pieces on Jazz Night even though their lead trumpet player was en route to Children’s Hospital in Boston to have an emergency appendectomy, another trumpet player was out sick, and a bari sax player’s mouth was aching because he got braces on his teeth less than twenty-four hours before the performance. Berklee College of Music professor Walter Beasley, a professional saxophone player who gave private lessons to the Big Band’s lead sax player, was their guest performer. Donations were being collected for the One Fund to help those injured in the Boston Marathon bombing which happened a little over two months before Jazz Night 2013. The notion of “One Boston,” of the area unifying in the face of tragedy provided an unspoken echo to the unofficial conclusion of the Big Band’s own, personal year of mourning.

The final piece the Big Band played in June 2013? The tune”Sweet Home Chicago,” made famous by the Blues Brothers. (You can listen to a recording of that very performance by scrolling down the right-hand side of this web page to the “Listen to the Big Band” widget, and clicking on song number 10.)

Here’s how it’s described in Mr. Clark’s Big Band:

Mr. Clark egged the audience on, turning to face them, raising his hands above his head and clapping in time. The crowd eagerly complied. The song, a monument to attitude and power, was fueled by an entire year’s worth of work during which [the students] plowed through grief and heartache. The resolute clapping and the faith of their band director pushed them to its final blast, which led to a standing ovation. Just when I thought the kids were about to keel over, Mr. Clark had them play the last dozen measures again.

Then came the celebration.

This year’s guest artist is another Berklee College of Music professor, Christine Fawson, a professional jazz trumpet player and vocalist, and the first female artist to appear with the Big Band. Donations will be collected to help a local family, the Fiores, whose children were students of Mr. Clark’s, whose restaurant burned down in a March fire.

Mr. Clark tells me that Erik Morales‘ “Kaleidoscope,” the jazz chart written in Eric Green’s honor and premiered by the Big Band featured in Mr. Clark’s Big Band, is on the Jazz Night set list.