COLUMBIA — Heads crane forward Monday as several hundred schoolchildren tried to see the stage in Hickman High School's auditorium. Even after the Matt Wilson Quartet finished playing, little feet could still be heard tap-tapping out an uneven beat.
"The greatest thing about jazz music," Wilson told them at one point, "is that it is expression that happens in the moment."
What: The Matt Wilson Quartet
When: 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m Tuesday at the Ragtag Cinema and 8 p.m. and Thursday at MU
Where: Ragtag, 10 Hitt St., and Stotler Lounge, Memorial Union, Hitt Street east of Lowry Mall
Admission: For the Ragtag performance, call the Jazz Series box office at 449-3001 for tickets; $20 general admission and $15 for students on Tuesday. Admission is free on Thursday for the Stotler Lounge performance.
Wilson, a percussionist, likens a jazz song to soup: Each musician adds his or her own ingredients to the soup contributing the color and the character of the song. The Matt Wilson Quartet visited Hickman to demonstrate and explain this jazz soup during an annual children's concert presented by the "We Always Swing" Jazz Series.
Between songs, the band members took questions about jazz from some 450 students from Field, Grant, Lee and Midway Heights elementary schools. Wilson, the 2008-09 artist-in-residence for the Jazz Series, is visiting a few elementary schools as part of the Jazz in the Schools program.
Wilson sees jazz as powerful in its immediacy and because of the intense teamwork required of a jazz ensemble. "We are working together as a team to create a new piece of music that will never happen the same way again," he told the children. "So when you are here today you are sharing this music with us, in the moment."
But creating jazz music is not the sole responsibility of the artists, he said in an afternoon interview; rather, the audience is a vital part of the process. Wilson said he plays with the audience, not for it.
"Playing music is like playing in a sandbox," he said during the children's concert.
Over the years, Wilson has become what he calls a jazz ambassador. Rather than complain about the decline in appreciation for jazz, he has decided to actively promote it. He said he finds it just as rewarding and important to introduce young people to jazz music as it is to "demystify" and discuss the art form with others and encourage continued education of jazz. He holds workshops, clinics and concerts at schools, hospitals and libraries and other places around the country.
Several times on Monday, Wilson emphasized that "live music is a rarity" and that Columbia is fortunate to have an active jazz series that promotes such music.