Anita Hamilton put her arm around the shoulders of the boy in the gray sweatshirt and cooed in his ear: “Bop, bop, boodily bop, beedily bebop, beedily bop.”
The boy stared at the floor, sullen and self-conscious, but Hamilton was not giving up. She tried again: “Boo bop a-reebop, beedily beedily bop.”
Again no reaction, so she tried again. She was going to get this young fellow to loosen up, lighten up, and make music if it took all afternoon.
The third time was the charm. He grabbed the mike from her hand, but he was having none of this bebop nonsense. It was hip-hop for him, or nothing. He cupped the mike in his two hands and puffed into it, beat-box style. It didn’t sound much like what Hamilton had done, but it was okay. He had expressed himself, made his statement, and the crowd went wild.
Anton Schwartz ’89, a professional jazz saxophonist based in the San Francisco area, and Sara Lazarus ’84, a jazz vocalist who lives in Paris, had come to the Grover Cleveland Middle School in Dorchester to give the youngsters an interactive experience with jazz. They were assisted by Hamilton, the school’s theater teacher, and Howard Teasley, a music teacher, who sat in on piano while Schwartz and Lazarus performed.
The event was part of “Mood Crimson,” sponsored by the Office of the Arts, a week of workshops, discussions, and concerts celebrating 30 years of jazz at Harvard. Bryan Kujawski, site coordinator for Gear Up, helped with the arrangements.
The program included a raucous call-and-response exercise led by the visitors, followed by the experiment in scat singing, which produced some budding Louis Primas and Ella Fitzgeralds, along with some who needed a little more coaxing. Schwartz, Lazarus, and Teasley ended with a performance of the Johnny Mercer song, “Autumn Leaves,” followed by an inspired vocal improvisation by Hamilton.
“That’s what jazz is all about,” Schwartz told the youngsters. “You’re going off on your own and expressing yourself, and at the same time, everyone’s working together.”