Jazz Houston seeks to elevate, support local jazz scene
Jazz Houston Youth Orchestra

The fast-approaching Essentially Ellington Texas Regional Jazz Band Festival (March 5 at TSU) that stands to be a game-changer for high school musicians aspiring to study jazz in college and/or potentially make music a career, is being hosted by Jazz Houston. And if you haven’t heard of Jazz Houston, don’t worry. You will.

Vincent Gardner, the lead trombonist with Wynton Marsalis, is Jazz Houston’s artistic director and co-founder. Gardner and wife actually moved to Houston for the purpose of creating an organization that could garner the ongoing financial support of jazz to keep the art form alive and well, and accessible to the general public.

“Jazz at the Lincoln Center is the world’s most prominent, not-for-profit dedicated to jazz performance and education,” said Gardner. “I’ve worked with that organization for 21 years and seen it grow, seen its triumphs and its missteps. And I’ve been mentored in a way by Wynton for years on how to form this type of organization, if I should ever want to do it.”

Gardner, who was born in Chicago and raised in Hampton, Va, said when he and his wife, vocalist, songwriter, performance coach and mentor, Belinda Munro, thought about their next move, which meant getting out of New York, they fell in love with Houston.

“In Houston, we started to meet like-minded people who love the arts, people who wanted to help support us if we should come to Houston. And we came to Houston five years ago, formed Jazz Houston and found a great board of directors, recruited some people to help us. And it’s been a dream come true for us to be able to do this.”

And what Jazz Houston is doing is laying the foundation for an organizational support system for the music Gardner plays and loves.

“Jazz music needs organizational support. Just like the Houston Grand Opera is an organization that supports operatic music and the Houston Symphony supports symphonic music, jazz music will benefit from an organizational support system to house an orchestra that plays the music, to create educational programs that help to bring young people into the music. But it needs that organizational support to do it.”

Gardner, who has released four albums under the SteepleChase record label, has performed with his own groups, his brother, trumpeter Derrick Gardner and his ensemble, The Jazz Prophets, the Count Basie Orchestra, Saturday Night Live Band, Matchbox 20 and more. From 1998 through 2000, Gardner toured with Lauryn Hill, in support of her Grammy-award winning album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 26: Vincent Gardner (L) and Belinda Munro attend the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2017 Gala “Ella at 100: Forever the First Lady of Song” on April 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center)

Munro, Jazz Houston’s co-founder and operations director, has performed globally with Celine Dion, Mary J Blige, Shirley Murdoch, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Marsalis and Luciano Pavarotti, to name a few.

According to the organization’s website, “Jazz Houston promotes the cultivation of jazz music globally through performance, education, and community outreach, and honors the Houstonians and Texans who have and continue to be major contributors to Jazz through the celebration of their legacies and the performance of their works.” 

Regarding the March 5 Essentially Ellington event, Gardner is excited for the high school participants’ opportunity to be exposed to the music of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and others, to play before and interact with their peers, and to meet leading university-level music educators who will be on hand from some of the nation’s top music programs.

“There’s so many opportunities here that can come out this festival, and I’ve seen it happen over the years that we just can’t wait for participants to experience that energy.”

For more info, visit JazzHouston.org,