Steamboat Strings School Days educates students

Luke Graham
Wayne Escoffery, who plays the tenor saxophone with JazzReach, performs for the Steamboat Springs Middle School band Wednesday morning. JazzReach has been selected for the Strings School Days program and will spend the next two years working with local students as part of a residency program.
John F. Russell

— Steamboat Springs Middle School seventh-graders poured into Jim Knapp’s band class Wednesday before lunch, buzzing around.

Conversations bounced off the walls, a group of girls giggled and several boys argued about where they’d each sit.

Then JazzReach started.

Lunch didn’t seem so far away now, the conversations didn’t matter and as long as the boys had a seat, they were fine.

“We’re never surprised that we get them to be quiet when we play,” said Wayne Escoffery, who plays tenor saxophone. “The one constant in my life, the one that has never let me down, has always been music.”

JazzReach, a New York nonprofit, gives presentations at 25 to 30 schools across the nation each year, hoping to foster more appreciation for jazz.

The group was brought in as part of School Days, for which Strings hosts a participating artist for a two-year residency. Elissa Greene, the director of artistic administration, education and technology for Strings, had heard about JazzReach and knew the values it had fit the bill.

JazzReach has been to Moffat County, Oak Creek and Steamboat schools this week as part of its outreach program. It hosted field trips Thursday and Friday for area schools at Strings and will hold a concert Friday night.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free. People are encouraged to get tickets beforehand if they want to attend. People can stop by the box office or click here for tickets.

The group includes Excoffery, Greg Ward on alto sax, David Bryant on piano, Zach Brown on bass and JazzReach founder Hans Schuman on drums.

The program is designed to encourage students to appreciate not only jazz but also the creation and performance of art as a whole.

Each member of JazzReach told a story Wednesday about being in a situation in which a similar group came to their schools when they were young. It became the impetus for many of them to continue playing.

“For all we know, there could be 10 kids from that class that say, ‘I want to be like those guys,’” Schuman said.

JazzReach will return to Steamboat in January and May 2015. The group in January will work with students to put together musical pieces that they will perform in May.

Ward will write and compose pieces of music for the students.

The music isn’t presented as a historical piece but rather shows how much jazz contributed and continues to contribute to American culture, Schuman said.

“We want you to become curious and learn as much as you can,” he told the students. “We want you to listen to music and realize it’s a gateway to what’s possible.”

For more information about JazzReach, visit

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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