The 14 participants, between the ages of 14 and 21, chosen for the annual More Music @ The Moore workshop in Seattle are spending a week in training and rehearsal with jazz star Robert Glasper. They’ll perform in concert March 24.
It’s Tuesday afternoon, and all 14 students in this year’s More Music @ The Moore workshop are on stage at the Moore Theatre, where they will strut their stuff Friday. They have just finished a run-through of their closing number, the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On.”
Wearing a knit cap and sweatshirt, music director Robert Glasper, a three-time Grammy-winning jazz pianist known for collaborations with rapper Kendrick Lamar, prowls between the front seats and the stage.
“Two things,” he says, looking up at full-throated vocalist Jayza Duhon, a 17-year-old senior from Auburn Mountain View High School. “When you start the verse, be more assertive. Don’t look to the side.”
More Music @ The Moore
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at the Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $15 (800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com).
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“Can you hear the conga?” Glasper asks Roosevelt High School drummer Ethan Lefaive.
Lefaive shakes his head.
“If you can’t hear at sound check, you’re going to have a bad show,” counsels Glasper. “I know, it’s happened to me.”
Glasper’s tips about stage presence and sound check are just two of the real-life artistic lessons he’s been handing out the past week at More Music @ The Moore, a 16-year-old youth-development program offered to musicians ages 14-21 by the Seattle Theatre Group (STG), which operates the Moore, Paramount and Neptune theaters.
With an impressive list of alumnae that boasts drummer D’Vonne Lewis (of Industrial Revelation), opera singer J’Nai Bridges and Seattle rapper Macklemore — and an artistic-director roster that includes Meshell Ndegeocello and Sheila E. — More Music @ The Moore has become a vital training ground. More than 150 musicians applied this year.
“This is the next generation of artists,” says Vicky Lee, program founder and STG director of education and performance programs. “We are keeping the pipeline going.”
This year’s class includes rappers, jazz musicians, a rock guitarist, a folk fiddler, classical clarinetist, hip-hop producer, singer-songwriter and new-age pianist.
Glasper thrives on this kind of diversity. He came up as a jazz player, but his first loves were gospel and R&B and he has melded hip-hop beats into his music.
Knowing repertoire kids are familiar with makes it easier for him to be a mentor, he says.
“They feel like I have a connection to them,” he says. “I’m not the principal.”
At the Friday show, students will present their own numbers and collaborate with each other and do two songs as a full unit.
At the rehearsal, six of the students belt out the chorus to Glasper’s inspirational anthem, “I Stand Alone,” from his album “Black Radio 2,” with Glasper on piano. The front line features Duhon; 18-year-old Egyptian-born rapper ZAG (Amr Mohammad Awwad); Bothell singer-songwriter Alison Banchero; vocalist ZAHARA (Zahara Williams) ; Seattle Pacific University undergraduate Marc Estabrook; and Edmonds rapper Jnaii (born Jenny Muleka), originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Working with young people requires a delicate balance between criticism and support, says Glasper.
“You want to try to make everybody feel comfortable, but you might have to move things around, to make sense,” he explains. “The challenge is maybe not hurting anyone’s feelings.”
His approach is a textbook lesson in striking that balance.
“When you do your solo,” Glasper instructs pianist Brandon Apodaca, from Garfield High School, “hit that downbeat. If you need to give yourself more time to get from the piano to the Rhodes (electric piano), take it. Then boom! Do your thing!
“And no looking over here,” he reminds Duhon.
Lessons learned. The rhythm section is tight, with guitarist Nick Mardon adding a scratchy double-clutch to his strum (per Glasper’s suggestion) and Duhon shouting out her line like she really means it. Glasper glances up, nodding approval. She smiles back.
“He taught me how to bring life to a song,” Duhon says, adding that his critiques were “not harsh.”
Or as Jnaii puts it, “Grind until the passion pays.”
Friday should be a big payoff, not just for the artists, but for anyone who wants to see what’s coming down the pipeline in Seattle music.