Steve Watson, the director of jazz studies at Greenville’s Fine Arts Center, has had to do things a bit differently this year with his students. Five-day-a-week in-person instruction hasn’t been an option.
“I’ve only seen students twice a week in person,” Watson says. “One group on Monday and Wednesday, and a group on Tuesday and Thursday. So that has been a challenge, not having them in school five days a week.”
It’s especially a challenge when his students have to prepare for an upcoming concert, in this case the FAC Jazz Allstars performance at Genevieve’s café in the Peace Center on Dec. 16. This is the third annual Jazz Allstars show at Genevieve’s, the result of a close collaboration between the Fine Arts Center and the Peace Center’s president and CEO, Megan Riegel.
Watson, a highly respected and experienced jazz guitarist, says that he and Riegel conceived the show as a chance for standout musicians from the FAC to play an actual gig, instead of a recital format, where all of the students would perform.
“It was a good thing that we didn’t have to start preparing for recitals and shows,” Steve Watson, the director of jazz studies at Greenville’s Fine Arts Center says. “We could get back to some fundamentals and concentrate on that.”
“When Megan and I came up with this idea of offering them an opportunity to come to the Peace Center, we wanted people to come who are the best we have at the moment,” he says. “And that’s a real motivator. In the past two years, I’ve noticed that they’re not as excited about the shows at the school, but they are about the one at the Peace Center, because we’re putting them in front of Peace Center patrons. It really helps them on their resume that they have this experience.”
Of course, when the pandemic hit, Watson wasn’t sure if the students would have any chances to perform, but he actually saw that as an advantage.
“It was a good thing that we didn’t have to start preparing for recitals and shows,” he says. “We could get back to some fundamentals and concentrate on that. The pressure of the concert was not there, and then once we got an approval from the school district, we had gone through quite a bit of material at that point, and we could start trying to assemble it into a show.”
“This will be mainly classic jazz from the ’50s and ’60s,” Steve Watson, the director of jazz studies at Greenville’s Fine Arts Center says., “Songs like ‘Body and Soul,’ ‘It Might as Well Be Spring,’ tunes by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.”
Watson says that for the most part, the FAC student ensemble will be taking on prime-period jazz at their Allstars concert, alternating between instrumentals and vocal performances by featured sophomore singer Ava Ramsey.
“This will be mainly classic jazz from the ’50s and ’60s,” he says, “Songs like ‘Body and Soul,’ ‘It Might as Well Be Spring,’ tunes by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. It’s jazz that I normally use in the classroom to teach them the skills they need. And we’re going to do one more contemporary tune, ‘Green Eyes’ by Erykah Badu; that’s something a little different.”
And despite the fact that Watson has had less time to spend with his students this year, he says that he still takes a “tough love” approach with his students.
“I have expectations that the level will be the same,” he says. “Even when they’re not in my class, I remind them, ‘This is what you’re supposed to be practicing, these are the specifics of what you need to be doing, you’ve had three days on your own to practice,’ and if they don’t come up to the bar, maybe I’ve got somebody who can take their place.”
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Watson says that his collaboration with the Peace Center has been beneficial to every discipline being taught at the Fine Arts Center, not just the musicians.
“The whole FAC has really grown through this collaboration,” he says. “It’s great to have a partner like the Peace Center offering us this opportunity. Megan Riegel needs to be commended for this, for sure.”
WANT TO GO?
What: FAC Jazz All Stars Introducing Ava Ramsey
Where: Genevieve’s @ the Peace Center (masks required, table sales only)
When: Wednesday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $100 for a table of 4.