March 11, 2003 - Boston Globe: Jamaica RPCV Bob Sinicrope teaches jazz to young people

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, March 11, 2003 - 10:14 am: Edit Post

Jamaica RPCV Bob Sinicrope teaches jazz to young people

Read and comment on this story from the Boston Globe on Jamaica RPCV Bob Sinicrope who has been teaching jazz to young people for 30 yeras. Bob led the Milton Academy Jazz Combo in a sold-out performance at the Regattabar in Cambridge on Sunday, and he leaves tomorrow with 22 Milton Academy students and 11 adults on a 19-day concert tour of South Africa. Read the story at:

Grade A jazz*

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Grade A jazz

Bob Sinicrope, an inspired teacher at Milton Academy, helps young players really toot their horns

By Jack Thomas, Globe Staff, 3/11/2003

On the campus at Milton Academy, in the basement of the Kellner Performing Arts Center, down in Room 113 among the trumpets, saxes, cymbals, and electric guitars, and surrounded by posters of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and, of course, Louis Armstrong, there in the center of the room, in stocking feet and filling in on drums, is Bob Sinicrope, 53, the Mr. Chips of jazz.

His best quintet this year is setting up for a class, minus drummer Matt Basilico, who's in Maine for a New England skiing championship, and as they play warm-up riffs, the mood is what it always is just before live jazz, full of titillation and hope.

In his 29th year of teaching jazz at Milton Academy, Sinicrope is riding high. He led the Milton Academy Jazz Combo in a sold-out performance at the Regattabar in Cambridge on Sunday, and he leaves tomorrow with 22 Milton Academy students and 11 adults on a 19-

day concert tour of South Africa. To get the attention of his class a few weeks earlier, Sinicrope taps on the drum, a-rum-a-tum-tum, and they fall silent.

''OK, guys, it's getting close,'' he says. ''Wednesday, March 12, we head for South Africa, and as you know, we're playing about 14 gigs, including the US Embassy and twice at the Green Dolphin in Capetown, which is on the waterfront and it's, like, the Regattabar of South Africa, cool and classy.''

Suddenly, the freedom of jazz surrenders to fear of war. Cradling his trumpet, Ian Stewart, 18, raises a question on everybody's mind: ''Like, if there's a war, we're not going, right?'' ''Well, at the meeting tomorrow, we'll talk about what's going on internationally and what our options are.''

Designed for joyful sounds, Room 113 is solemn.

''What happens if war breaks out while we're there?'' asks Tyler Simmons, 18, who plays tenor sax.

''Until something happens, we can't deal with it,'' says Sinicrope, ''but I assure you that the people who make decisions at Milton care first about your safety.''

They are all silent for a long moment until the tension is broken by bass guitarist Joe Posner, 18.

''When can we start playing?''

Sinicrope hits the drums. Posner follows on bass, Stewart and Simmons join in on trumpet and sax, and suddenly, once again, the Milton Academy Jazz Quintet is blowing jazzy, toe-tapping, great-to-be-alive sounds.

`The language of jazz'

Later, when the instruments are put to bed and the students have headed off to more traditional academic challenges, Sinicrope tinkers with the playlist for the South Africa tour and talks about what he calls his baby, the teaching of jazz to teenagers at Milton Academy, which he's done for nearly three decades.

''I came across a great quote: that jazz can be learned, but not taught,'' he says. ''In other words, I can put the stuff in front of them, but they've got to come to it. It's one thing to talk about chords, but it's another for them to hear the language of jazz and be inspired.

''We have a first-year student, Lisa Campbell, who's conscientious, but in terms of playing, she wasn't speaking the jazz language. Coming back after Christmas, she was delayed in Detroit six hours, and she did nothing but listen to jazz -- really listen for the first time -- and she came back a different musician. She got it, and that's not unusual for these kids.''

Sinicrope is teaching four full-credit courses in jazz to 40 students who arrive with an instrument, an ability to play scales, and an appetite for hard work.

''We had a student now getting a lot of attention, Aaron Goldberg, who graduated in '91 and has played piano with Joshua Redman for four years,'' Sinicrope says. ''He knew nothing about jazz when he walked into this course in 10th grade. In the liner notes of one of his albums, he recalls that when I asked him to play a C-major chord, he didn't know what I was talking about, and so he started playing Rachmaninoff.

''But that's not why a program like this exists. This is a high school, and many of these kids are not going to play jazz in an organized way after they leave Milton.

''I want them to have fun but get to the next level, and for most people, there's discomfort in growing. If I let them, they'd fall back on simple blues, like `Watermelon Man,' but if I press them, they look back and say, `Wow, look what we did.'

''Check out our `1959' CD with the tune called `Giant Steps.' That's a rite of passage for a serious jazz musician because it changes key 11 times in 16 measures. I can't believe high school kids play that tune as great as they do.''

Teaching jazz calls for skills different from those in traditional academic courses.

''Some days they say they just got out of a math test and want to play rock music,'' Sinicrope says. ''But if we did, we wouldn't be able to switch to a beautiful ballad by Coltrane. So I have to say, `You can't.' They'd have fun but wouldn't grow.''

They may be growing, but are they having fun? Sometimes it's difficult to tell.

At a press party last month to introduce the spring schedule at the Regattabar, the Milton Academy Jazz Combo players looked good in jackets and neckties and sounded good technically, but they appeared not to be having much of the fun associated with jazz.

Simmons, the sax player, has heard the complaint before.

''Actually, we are having a good time,'' he says, ''although we know we look like we're not happy. But none of us have mastered our instrument, and so we focus on that. Sometimes, right after I solo, I realize I was in some kind of music zone and paying attention to nothing but the music. I try to look bouncy, but it's hard to focus on music and a stage presence.''

It's a message Sinicrope drives home: Have fun, be cool.

''I know that sometimes you're anxious about whether you're playing right,'' he tells one quintet after a technically competent but low-key rendition of ''Fungii Mama.'' ''Take your practicing seriously, your playing playfully. There's a time to be serious, a time to say, `OK, I've done what I can to prepare. Now it's time to see what I've got.'

''If this were a pensive piece, that's one mood, but this is island music, fun and playful, and you've got to infuse that into the music. Think this way -- `No snow, no ice, no history paper.' You're smart kids. You've got the nuts and bolts, but get the spirit. Have fun!''

Shaping the future

Sinicrope's jazz program has drawn visits by Poncho Sanchez, Dick Johnson, Herb Pomeroy, James Taylor, and Rebecca Parris. Milton's jazz players won Down Beat magazine's award for best high school combo in the country in 1992 and 1999 and played at the White House in 1999 and 2000.

Among those making the trip to South Africa is Frances Scanlon, the graphic designer Sinicrope married eight weeks ago. He has two daughters, four grandchildren.

Sinicrope grew up in Connecticut. In fourth grade he took up the trombone, in fifth he filled in on bass, and four weeks later he was playing in the local symphony alongside his teacher. ''In junior year, there was a stretch,'' he says, ''when I was out 30 nights in a row for piano lessons, symphony rehearsals, or for a rock band I played in.''

He dreamed of teaching math and jazz, and after graduating from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in math, serving a term in the Peace Corps in Jamaica, and dabbling in guitar at Berklee School of Music, he was hired in 1973 by Milton Academy to teach math. The next year he inaugurated the jazz program with a class that included a grandson of President Truman.

Now in his fourth year under Sinicrope, Simmons enjoys the regimen.

''There are classes when we're totally on and playing is so much fun because the music sounds so good,'' he says. ''Freshman year, you play simple songs, a jazz experience, but you're not really learning to play. Sophomore year is an introduction to improvisation, but more tutorial. Junior and senior year, it's advanced jazz combo, more performance-oriented.

This is not a gut course. Listen to Sinicrope on improvisation:

''Here's an option on the bridge. You know how the dominant cycle works? D-7? The reason D-7 wants to go to G is because there's an unstable interval in the chord between the third and the flat-7. It's called the tritone. It turns out there's an F sharp in the C, which is the tritone in the D-7. If you invert it, it's still six half-steps, and that same tritone becomes the flat-7 in the third. So every dominant chord has a kissing cousin that has the same tritone, the same unstable interval. So find the chord a tritone away, which is a substitute tritone, and then you have a chromatic line.''

What Sinicrope is molding at Milton Academy is the future of jazz, says Fenton Hollander, who books musicians for the Regattabar.

''We want young people to decide jazz is a good thing and to start following jazz,'' Hollander says. ''Sunday's performance was sold out weeks in advance, and we suggested a second show, but Bob didn't want to push the kids too fast. But it was so successful it's scary, and I know we'll book more groups from colleges and high schools.''

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 3/11/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
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By katie sinicrope ( on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 12:40 pm: Edit Post

I really want to learn jaz so if anyone knows any people who teach jaz in CA can you please email me....i think i must be related to Bob somehow cause we have the same last name and it isnt a common last name.....please email me....katie

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