Contemporary Improvisation Series Offers “A Surreal Experience”

October 14, 2021

World-renowned jazz musicians Myron Walden (saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet), Ferenc Nemeth (drums), and Adam Cote (bass) were the latest guest artists to visit Wheeler as part of The Contemporary Improvisation Series. The program started a decade ago when Upper School Jazz Teacher Francisco Cardoso invited his friend and Grammy Award-winner Esperanza Spalding to campus. “It has always been my goal to bring in game-changers that can offer wisdom to our student community,” said Mr. Cardoso, who has come to know many of the artists as a professional musician himself. Walden, Nemeth, and Cote engaged with students on Oct. 8.

“Most of my close friends are from diverse backgrounds, and it’s also important for all of our students to see role models that look like them,” Mr. Cardoso said. “Having world-class musicians like saxophonist Myron Walden and drummer Ferenc Nemeth during your school day is like bringing the Newport Jazz Festival to Wheeler.”

For several of the students, including electric bass player Joseph Acampora ’24, it was a jazz festival where they not only watched the musicians but had the chance to perform with them as well.

“It was a really surreal experience,” Acampora said. “It’s not everyday that you get to play with professional musicians that have either won Grammys or have played with my bass heroes. I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity.

“When you’re playing jazz, there is a certain amount of communication that is involved, and when people around my age are learning it together, sometimes it’s like we’re all learning a language, so it’s not perfect,” Acampora continued. “But when you’re speaking with someone who speaks that language fluently, you can learn so much, and it pushes you out of your comfort zone.”

Acampora said that when he and fellow student and drummer Henry Krex ’24, went up to play with Walden, Nemeth, Cote, and Mr. Cardoso, along with Noah Allen ’23 on trumpet and Mateo Smith ’23 on guitar, their hands were shaking because they were so nervous. “But in the end, we learned a lot from it.”

Krex agreed. “It was purely fantastic to have such incredible musicians here. They taught me so much in a short time, and it was such an amazing opportunity to be able to play with them.” Krex said he and his classmates are lucky to have a passionate teacher like Mr. Cardoso who organizes experiences like the Contemporary Improvisation Series. “The time together was truly a life changing time for me because of all the things I learned that will help me so much in my musical journey.”

In addition to students in the Upper School Jazz Program, 2nd, 4th and 6th graders also joined the session to ask questions, play with the artists, and, perhaps, be inspired in their own musical journeys.

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