Ray Fallon arrived on the Island to teach music at the Tisbury School four years ago, and as much as he enjoyed watching young students take up an instrument for the first time, Fallon is stretching students even farther now as the band director at MVRHS. He formed the M.V. Big Band, and from that came the jazz ensemble, a group of 18 students who are currently working on tunes by jazz great and activist Charles Mingus. They are auditioning to make it into the Mingus Let My Children Hear Music Festival in New York City in February. “This is our first time doing anything like that, and it’s a bold step to take in the second year of this ensemble,” Fallon says. In the spirit of bringing the jazz ensemble together with the Island music community, the performing arts department hosts its first annual Winter Jazz Fest at the Performing Arts Center as a fundraiser for the jazz program at 6:30 pm on Friday, Dec. 16.
“Admission at the door will be $25, and the concert will feature our jazz combo and the M.V. Big Band, and Darby Patterson and the Jelly Roll Horns, Jeremy Berlin and Rose Guerin, and the Lucas Ostinato Trio will also play,” Fallon explains. “The idea is to start building a bigger connection with our school and the performance community. When I asked local professional musicians, they all jumped at it to do their part to give the kids an opportunity.”
The Times talked to some of the students and with Fallon at a recent rehearsal.
Eli Friedman is a junior at MVRHS, and plays the alto saxophone in the jazz ensemble, playing a solo in Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” for the festival audition.
“When we’re rehearsing outside of school, the atmosphere is different, and it’s different music from the concert band, and a whole different style,” Eli says. “It’s more intense actually, sort of more of a relaxed environment too. I have a lot of friends in the Big Band, and we’re a close, tight-knit group.”
The jazz ensemble is an extracurricular endeavor, and when they were rehearsing last week, the students planned to be there for three hours to record their audition tape with Charlie Esposito. Fallon made sure there were frequent breaks to hydrate and to give their breathing and facial muscles a break. For Eli, part of the appeal is also the challenge that jazz musical styling presents. “I love the material, and I love how ambitious we are, always trying to do better,” he says.
Fallon began the jazz program just last year, and says he was really pleased with how it developed over the course of the year. Some of the students actually switched instruments to play in the ensemble, so it was starting from scratch in a lot of ways, he says.
“The crazy thing is how onboard they’ve been with everything the last two years,” Fallon says. “I’ve brought a lot of newness to the program, and the kids just work so hard, and we’ve gotten really good really fast because of their hard work and their buy-in to what we’re setting up.”
For freshman tuba and trombone player Zyler Flanders, the jazz ensemble was a great way to make new friends. The jazz group practices every Tuesday night for a couple of hours after school.
“The tempo and style of music is very different,” Zyler said. “The way you play certain notes is completely different. You attack the note, back off, and then crescendo, that’s the jazz form. Concert bands are more bell tones, where you attack the front of the note and don’t attack it again.”
For a group that has only been playing together for a little over a year, this jazz ensemble can already transport the listener to a 1950s smoky jazz club. At last week’s audition taping, Fallon made sure to be positive about the way his students were playing, even as he was encouraging them to play even better. His own musical background playing the trumpet was influenced heavily by marching bands and drum and bugle corps. Fallon did his student teaching at Boston Latin School, and then worked there for a couple of years, and says that experience gave him a lot of background and ideas about how to work as a band director. Boston Latin’s director of fine arts, Paul Pitts, is still Fallon’s mentor today.
“This is my fourth year on the Island,” Fallon said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here a lot. I’m from Boston, so it is a different lifestyle. I especially enjoy the music community here. This is such a culturally rich place to live, and I want our program to be a reflection of that.”
“Winter Jazz Fest,” with the MVRHS M.V. Big Band, M.V. Jazz Combo, Jeremy Berlin and Rose Guerin, Darby Patterson and the Jelly Roll Horns, and the Lucas Ostinato Trio, at the Performing Arts Center, Friday, Dec. 16, 6:30 pm at the Performing Arts Center. Tickets, $25, benefit the school’s music program.