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Jumpin' for Kids

17-piece Swing band raises money for instruments for students

By Elizabeth Wu · February 18th, 2009 · Music
"He who loves music loves life.” This is the quote that changed Jerry Beck’s life when he was 10 years old and deciding between practicing his trumpet or joining his friends for a game of baseball.

Now Beck is 72 and founder of the Cincinnati Music Foundation, better known by its stage name, Jump N’ Jive Show Band. He understands how the smallest thing can make a big difference in a person’s life: That one quote inspired him to follow a path of music and he hopes to inspire others, especially children, to develop a love for music and to have the opportunity to take up an instrument if they so wish. Beck describes that momentous decision: His father was an accomplished drummer, and between the ages of 4-8 Beck studied the drums. However, he found out that this wasn’t really his instrument.

“I discovered I didn’t have any rhythm,” Beck says. “So at age 8, they took me off drums and put me on piano. I cried because this was a sissy instrument for girls.”

Beck says that after two years of crying before, during and after his piano lessons, his mother finally told him he could play another instrument.

“So we went down to Ray Lammer’s, and I bought a Ray Lammer trumpet for $50,” he says. “After two weeks on trumpet, I was forming an orchestra. We had the tickets put together and the hall picked out. Since I was a pretty good sports player, at age 10 it was very confusing to me — do I play this trumpet? I really like it. Or do I play baseball or football, because I really like that.”

Then somehow Beck came across the quote, “He who loves music loves life.” That’s what turned the tide.

“That told me a very profound sense of direction: music,” he says. “And I practiced faithfully every day. It was a ritual, like going to church. I excelled at it. I put the baseball and football away.”

At the time, Beck reasoned that once he finished high school, if he went to college, those that weren’t good enough to play on the college team would have to stop, but he would still be playing music. He would also still be playing after college.

This turned out to be a very astute observation for a young man. Decades later, Beck says, “I’m 72 and I’m still playing music. I’m enjoying life.”

In 2007, Beck came up with the concept of the Cincinnati Music Foundation — he would put together a Swing band that would play in order to raise money to purchase instruments for middle school and high school music students whose families could not afford to buy them. The organization had a tragic start. A week before their first rehearsal was scheduled, their band director, Ted Hitchens, who was also an aviation instructor, died in a plane crash.

On the day the story of Hitchens’ death ran in The Enquirer, there was also an article about instruments that had been donated to a school that were pulled back when the program was cancelled. Both events further cemented Beck’s determination to make this mission of providing instruments to students happen. Though they encountered setbacks in the beginning, they kept the goal alive. Xavier University offered the orchestra a rehearsal space and they held their first rehearsal in March 2008.

Many thought that the group wouldn’t hold together for long. Charlie Hill, who teaches at St. Henry High School and plays baritone saxophone in the band, admits that when he was first invited to join the group, he was dubious.

“The only reason I went was because of Jerry,” he says, “because I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work. Guys aren’t going to give their time for free.’ ”

In fact, the concept not only drew musicians willing to volunteer, but professionals of high caliber.
Beck says, “The momentum of the musicians is constantly growing because of the arrangements and the association of the other musicians sitting beside them.”

The band has grown immensely; now there are two 17-piece ensembles, both operating under the name Jump N’ Jive Show Band. One rehearses on Tuesdays and the other on Wednesdays, so they are called the “Tuesday band” and “Wednesday band,” respectively. Each band is made up of five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, drums, guitar and bass. Each band also has its own director; Todd Steen, who plays trumpet and trombone, directs the Tuesday band and Jack Wagner, who plays alto, tenor and baritone sax, directs the Wednesday band.

In addition, there are also six singers who are featured on specific tunes, as well as a group of “subs” who are on call in case someone can’t make a show. All told, there are currently more than 65 people who perform with the Jump N’ Jive Show Band, and they are continuously adding new talent of all ages and backgrounds. The next goal is to incorporate dance into their routine; they are looking for couples to perform the jitterbug and other period dances, as well as Latin ballroom-style dancing.

The organization is in the process of incorporating as a 501c3 nonprofit. They have already raised some funds, but have not yet received any requests for instruments. The way they envision the process working is that a band director, seeing that a student wants to learn to play but does not have the means to purchase an instrument, would contact Cincinnati Music Foundation and make a request on the student’s behalf. The foundation would process the request and then provide that student with an instrument if possible. They are accepting donations of musical instruments as well as cash for purchasing instruments. One of the band members happens to be a fire chief and has arranged for all local firehouses to be drop-off points for instrument donations.

Besides providing instruments to children, members of the organization also hope to inspire youth to desire to play — or at least learn to enjoy a form of music that they might not otherwise have been exposed to.

Peter Wimberg, drummer for the Wednesday night band, feels that music education can impact a student in ways beyond the musical. It also teaches discipline.

“Studies have shown when you take up an instrument, you do better in school,” he says. “And younger kids, they don’t always want to work at stuff. An instrument takes that commitment. This is not something you’re going to get down in a couple weeks. “

Wimberg also believes that the value of learning an instrument is long-lasting, both for the person who learns to play and those that will benefit as listeners.

“Music you play your whole life,” he says. “You’re not going to play baseball and football your whole life. Also, you don’t know if the instrument you’re putting in that kid’s hand, if he’s (going to be) the next Wynton Marsalis or Miles Davis.”

Now coming up on their first anniversary, the Jump N’ Jive Show Band is starting to develop a reputation and play some higher-profile gigs. They’ll be performing at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club on Tuesday, at a black tie event celebrating the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s 35th Anniversary on May 1 and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in July.

“It’s not about the money,” says Wimberg, “That’s not even a concern with this. I’ve looked forward to (playing) like I’ve never looked forward to it. You can’t wait."

JUMP N’ JIVE plays the Blue Wisp Jazz Club Tuesday. For more information about the Cincinnati Music Foundation and Jump N’ Jive Show Band, check out cincinnatimusicfoundation.vpweb.com. Get information about the Blue Wisp show and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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