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From the press notes...
THE STUDENTS IN THE BAND
Saxophone Section: Eric Barreto-Maymi Owen Broder Ryan Cook Darren Escar Michael Emmert Alan Havens Jawren Walton
Trombone Section: Darren Ellison T.J. Norris Corey Wilcox Jabril Williams
Trumpet Section: Tyler Duncan Erica Feinglass Jeron "Recio" Fruge Richard Sheard Adam Stark
Rhythm Section: Mario Bosque Jarrett Carter Gordon Coffee Wesley Goode Jacob Merrett Devin Paschall Jamison Ross Jeremy Smith
ABOUT THE FILM
CHOPS began rather modestly from the parental perspective of Bruce Broder, a Florida advertising guy who one day left work early to see his son Owen participate in a Jazz class when Owen was in middle school.
"The language and the analogies the teachers used to get the concepts of Jazz and of improvisation across to these 11 and 12 year old kids was amazing to me," Broder recalled recently. "And in a really discernible way, you could see that the kids were just loving it. They were hooked.
"So I started following a small group of kids, including my son, who were part of the middle school jazz combo. The original idea for the movie was to cover them as they made the transition from middle school to high school. I knew they would be facing a far less nurturing, far more competitive environment. And I was interested in how they would deal with their love of music and jazz in the midst of the twin emotional hurricanes that are high school and puberty.
"I was fascinated with the idea that at the same time they were working on their jazz chops, they were also working out what their personas would be, on and off stage."
THE FILM'S DIRECTOR ON WYNTON MARSALIS
"I don't think the guy is capable of delivering a bad quote," Broder says of that interview. "What comes across is how deeply he is interested in the art: playing it, teaching it, fostering it. He's focused on the art and how it influences and informs life all the time."
Adds executive producer Tim Cremin, "I have to say that Wynton is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. You're a little anxious when you are about to meet him, but within about ten seconds he has you at ease with his personality and just the way he carries himself. Wynton, along with Jazz at Lincoln Center, seems to feel the responsibility of connecting the history of jazz with the present and future. Not only is he a fantastic artist, he's an ambassador for the music. I think that is why this film appealed to him."
"During our interview with Wynton," Broder adds, "he said something that really hit home with me It was about jazz as a teaching tool. He said jazz teaches you manners, respect for others, how to be yourself, even a sense of humor. That quote was cut from the film because I think and hope it's illustrated without being said.
"One of the amazing things I learned from this process," Broder continues, "was how these kids from different backgrounds learned to communicate with and respect each other. You don't get to see kids of different races and backgrounds interact this way very often. It speaks to the power of music. At some point these kids became jazz kids, they took on this collective jazz persona, and you can see it in the way they greet each other, in the language they use when they talk with each other, in the way they move. In celebrating the music they are celebrating their individuality and at the same time they are celebrating what they have in common. That's the beauty of jazz."
Adds Cremin, "My greatest hope for this film is that kids, parents, educators and anyone else who sees it gets inspired to find out what this music can do. Just listening to jazz can inspire you. But when you see what jazz can do for these kids, both personally and as a group, it's obvious that it's much more than learning to play. It touches their souls and makes them feel good about themselves. I wish every kid in the world could feel that."
CHOPS was an incredibly enjoyable film. As a former HS teacher (not
music) it was a reminder of how enthusiastic and pleasurable working
the students can be. Focusing primarily on one Florida HS jazz band's
preparation for competing against other schools at Lincoln Center, it
allows you to get to know the primary musicians and their backgrounds.
There are brief segments featuring 2 bands from Seattle getting ready
for the same competition.
Especially satisfying was jazz legend Ron Carter's visit to the Florida school for a master class. It was hilarious to watch these likable, eager kids, probably assuming they were pretty cool musicians, quickly realize that Mr. Carter wrote the book on cool. The students were coaxed out of their typically teenage passivity and reserve by the teasing, demonstrative motivations of their visiting teacher. Along with the hard work and encouragement of their regular teacher, it almost made me want to be back in the classroom! The students' enjoyment of their New York experience and the performances during the actual competition were a great end to a great film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of those films that Netflix "recommends" to you personally
after you have rated enough others. It also caught my attention for the
title, "Chops." I am a life-long trumpet player, when you are able to
play really well, "chops" is a reference to your playing ability. I saw
it as a streaming Netflix video.
Before I saw this film I knew nothing about the Essentially Ellington Festival and competition among high school bands playing selections of Ellington jazz. I should not have been surprised to find Wynton Marsalis involved. He and I are both trumpet players, and we both played with the New Orleans Concert Band for brief periods. This film was in my blood before I even watched the first scenes.
The film focuses mostly on one Florida group of teenagers, good musicians individually, undertaking the giant task of Ellington. They first had to work up a repertoire of three selections, then record the music to submit to the contest as a first hurdle.
Weeks later when they got the good news that they were selected as one of the 15 schools to attend the festival at Lincoln Center in New York, the real work began, to fine-tune their performances and to raise money for the trip. The challenge was great, as some of the schools competing already had a history of high places, including victories, in the contest.
The film becomes very personal, we don't just see the teenagers practicing and performing, we get to know them as individuals. This truly is a superb film for any music lover.
SPOILERS: As the groups get to New York, and perform, the Florida band gets chosen as one of the top three. The winner would be revealed after the concert the next day. The Florida group of kids were the eventual winners, the culmination of a seemingly impossible journey. According to main judge Marsalis, it came down to the quality of the individual instrumental soloists, the Florida group shone brighter than the others.
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