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Homewood jazz festival aims to inspire young musicians

| Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 3:06 p.m.
Drummer Thomas Wendt
Pittsburgh Citiparks
Drummer Thomas Wendt

Drummer Thomas Wendt is trying to boost the tempo of the work at the Afro-American Music Institute in Homewood.

“You talk to so many people, and they just don't know where the institute is or what it does,” he says.

He and the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra are trying to spread the word of the school by organizing a jazz festival July 30 on the Homewood campus.

The free event will feature the likes of the PJO Little Big Band, a small-group version of the big band, the PJO Youth Orchestra, bassist Claude Flowers, keyboardist Howie Alexander and drummer James Johnson III, son of the founder and executive director of the school.

Also featured will be the school's boys choir and youth jazz lab.

“The event brings a credibility and attention to the institute,” says the elder Johnson.

The event is a joint effort by the school, the jazz band and Duquesne University's City Music Center, which provides music lessons and performance opportunities for youths and adults, Wendt says.

The opportunity to collaborate with the music center and the band, James Johnson Jr. says, makes the decision of whether to get involved “a no-brainer.”

Wendt is the drummer for the orchestra, one of the founders of the band called The Firm Roots and a busy player in many area settings.

He says when the band formed its youth group in 2015, it started working with the City Music Center and the music institute in an effort to get young people to play. That job was not always easy, he says.

“The music institute has a roomful of donated instruments for kids who can't afford their own, and they can't give them away,” he says.

He believes part of the problem is this age of quick-gratification does not fit well with the steady effort that is needed to master a musical instrument.

By putting together a free day of music at the Homewood site, Wendt and other planners hope to expose young listeners to the excitement of live music and to spark interest in playing.

Christopher Bromley, managing director of the band, says the ensemble is committed to education and community outreach. A session such as this fits those missions.

Johnson says the festival has another role, too: “I always like to give kids an alternative to what they hear on the radio.”

Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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