COLUMBIA — With a jovial, bold presence and striking talent, jazz guitarist Russell Malone mentored Columbia students this week as an artist-in-residence with the "We Always Swing" Jazz Series.
Malone, 48, participated in two children's concerts Wednesday and Thursday morning at Hickman High School, a public forum at Columbia Public Library, a workshop at The Bridge and will end his residency in a collaborative concert with the MU Concert Jazz Band on Thursday at Hickman.
What: Russell Malone with MU Concert Jazz Band
When: 7 p.m. Thursday (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
Cost: $15, $20; $8 for non-Columbia students with a student ID; Free to Columbia students with a student ID. Student tickets are only available at the Jazz Series Box Office, located at 218 N. Eighth Street. The box office is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Five years ago, Malone met Arthur White, assistant professor and director of Jazz Performance Studies at the MU School of Music and a board member at the jazz series, when White was teaching in Oklahoma. White asked Malone if he'd be one of the series' featured musicians, and Malone accepted.
Born in Albany, Ga., Malone has been drawn to the guitar since age four. Now living in Jersey City, N.J., Malone has changed from an inspired young guitarist to an accomplished professional.
From Harry Connick Jr. to Etta Jones, Malone has rubbed elbows and strummed strings with musicians who have transformed the jazz scene for decades. Malone was involved in the three-time Grammy-nominated Diana Krall Trio.
Jerry Benedict, a self-proclaimed jazz fan, tapped his feet and nodded his head in time with the music Malone played at the library's public forum Wednesday.
"It's just such a real treat, being able to come to these events," Benedict said. "It's one thing to see (musicians) play at the venues. To find that these guys are humans and hear the stories they tell is incredible."
All of Malone's movements exude musicality — he winces as the music hits a crescendo, his Gibson L-5 guitar strapped across his body. He moves his hands through the air, strumming and pressing imaginary frets as he smiles and engages with the audience.
"(Learning jazz is) kind of like learning a language," Malone told the audience at the library. "You learn songs and copy licks and everything. ... You've gotta learn how to put senses together and speak the words, but you've gotta figure out your own way to speak the language."
At the workshop at The Bridge, 1020 E. Walnut St., Malone gave critiques of music students' jazz performances.
Malone stood on one side of the stage, feet firmly planted and looking at the ground as he concentrated on the performances. He carefully analyzed the sound all the way to the "root" of the chords they played — all with the reassuring tone of a mentor.
"Your music is like your voice," Malone said. "You know how some people sound more compelling than others when they talk? When they speak, it doesn't matter what they say. It just sounds good. You've gotta sound good."
Through his workshops and his concerts with the students, Malone has offered a chance learning opportunity to Columbia music students. He especially noticed how enthusiastic students were at the Hickman concert Wednesday.
"When you look out and see children being really interested in the music, it gives me hope," Malone said.
"For children, the best thing to do is just play — don't talk — just play," he said. "They'll remember that for the rest of their lives. They won't ever forget that."