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This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on July 19, 2000. All rights reserved.

From 5 Continents, Musicians Seek FAME

E-mail: ElaineStrauss@princetoninfo.com

Named, no doubt, with ulterior motives, the Foundation

for Artistic and Musical Excellence, goes by the acronym FAME. The

organization was founded by violinist Thomas Lindsay and his violist

wife, Alice, who started the organization in 1994 with a six-day

summer

school for classical music. The Lindsays have played with the Dallas

Symphony Orchestra and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. The school

has quadrupled in size from its original enrollment of 88 students

and the program has grown to two weeks. Three years ago FAME added

a jazz division.

Now in its sixth year, FAME makes itself most visible in a 13-concert

festival from Sunday, July 23, to Friday, August 4, at the Kirby Arts

Center on the Lawrenceville School campus. Of the nightly concerts

seven are chamber music, three are orchestral, and three are jazz.

Performers are primarily faculty members from both the classical and

jazz divisions at the three-tiered music school that attracts students

from five continents.

The culminating concert on Friday, August 4, exemplifies the give

and take between classically-oriented and jazz-oriented FAME

participants.

It consists of Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music to "A

Midsummer

Night’s Dream," and Mondre Moffett’s "Wishbone Suite."

Trumpeter and conductor, as well as composer, Moffett is FAME’s dean

of jazz studies. The August 4 performance of his piece for orchestra,

chorus, and jazz soloists is a world premiere.

"The `Wishbone Suite’ is unlike any music I have ever

composed,"

says a surprised Moffett. "I heard the piece in my head in its

entirety. I never experienced anything like this before." As a

jazz trumpeter Moffett’s bottom-line approach to music leans toward

improvisation, rather than completely notated music. "Writing

`Wishbone’ was almost like in a dream," he says. "It has six

movements. From the beginning I heard the last movement in my head.

Then I went about the business, filling in the rest, and writing it

down. It just flowed through me." Embodying a desire for universal

piece, "Wishbone" blends musical traditions, fusing jazz,

classical music, and African drumming.

Moffett contrasts his writing of the piece with musical

improvisation. "When you improvise, you’re in the moment, and

one idea leads to the next. At the first downbeat, you don’t know

what you will be playing in the next measure. But know it will be

based upon what you did in the first measure. I usually approach all

my composing this way. Normally, when I write a piece I don’t know

how it will end up. `Wishbone’ was easier because I knew where the

piece was going."

Moffett was born into a musical family in Austin, Texas, in 1953.

Named Charles after his father, he uses his middle name Mondre

(pronounced

"Mondray"). Explaining the origin of the name he says, "My

mother always liked the name Andre, but she also wanted my middle

initial to be M."

Moffett’s mother, a high school English teacher, majored in English

and minored in music. A pianist, she was a church choir director and

is active musically today. "She not only reads music, but also

plays by ear," says her son. "In church music, especially

gospel, you have to be able to transpose by ear."

Moffett’s father, who lived to age 96, played drums, percussion, and

vibraphone. He was a member of the Ornette Coleman trio, a big name

in the 1960s. He later formed a jazz ensemble with his five children.

From top to bottom, the sibling participants were Mondre, the eldest,

trumpet; Charles Jr., saxophone; Codaryl, drums; Charisse, vocals;

and Charnett, bass. The group recorded for Venus records, in Japan,

and eventually broke up as its members began pursuing their individual

interests. Mondre, who struck out on his own in the late 1970s, was

the first to leave.

Busy with symphonic writing in northern California, Mondre reports

that he would return east when the ensemble needed him. "The

family

members were here in New York," he says. "They would send

for me annually when there were family concerts."

Meanwhile, Mondre earned a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco’s

New College of California in 1979, and immediately immersed himself

in composing and performing. He founded and led a youth orchestra

in San Francisco, the Newborn Symphony, and wrote music for the group.

"It was standard instrumentation," he says, "but we did

a lot of jazz pieces." The orchestra remained active into the

middle 1980s.

In 1999, 20 years after his first academic degree, Moffett earned

a master’s degree in music composition at New York University. His

mentor there was Frank Foster, who wrote hits for the Count Basie

Orchestra and led the band after Basie’s death. "Degrees are

certainly

not a prerequisite for jazz," Moffett says. "You don’t learn

from jazz masters in a classroom. I talked to them in my living room,

or went to performances in jazz halls. Now universities are bringing

jazz musicians into the curriculum."

As for improvisation, that cornerstone of jazz, Moffett asserts that

"you don’t find anyone to teach improvisation in an institution.

My dad was a master teacher of improvisation. He learned it from

Ornette

Coleman. You have to approach it in a childlike manner. You have to

be free. You have to play. You can’t be confined to scales; you have

to be free of grammar and just accept what comes out."

The problems of improvising are personal and psychological, rather

than technical, Moffett believes. "People have a fear of sounding

bad," he says. "You have to overcome that. When you improvise

you can mix levels. You can have a giant of a musician perform with

a little baby, and still produce quality music. You have to have

freedom.

As you develop you include discipline. But must start with the freedom

aspect first."

"After I can get a student to understand the concept of

improvisation,"

Moffett says, "I use a rhythmic approach. You have to learn to

develop a vocabulary of many different kinds of rhythm. You have to

invert ideas rhythmically. When it comes right down to it, there are

only really 12 notes in music."

Moffett relies on rhythm as a prime criterion in selecting students

for the FAME program. As the jazz dean at FAME, he sits in on

auditions

for admission to the FAME program. "I look for a sense of

rhythm,"

he says. "All instruments should be approached like a drum. The

major thing I look for in the ability to improvise is: Do they swing,?

If there’s no rhythmic logic, a beautiful melody won’t make it

swing."

This year at FAME Moffett presides over a division that consists of

nine teachers and about 60 students. The jazz students make up almost

20 percent of the 335 students enrolled in the summer program.

Co-founder Alice Lindsay explains that the jazz

division,

like the classical division of FAME, is divided into three levels.

A professional studies level includes students of college age and

older and has enrolled students who already have posts in professional

orchestras. A pre-college level consists of students under the age

of 18 with advanced skills. The "le Petit FAME" level enrolls

students from below the age of 15 with limited skills. A day program,

it is intended for students who have worked on their instrument for

a year or two. The public learns of the festival through word of

mouth,

advertisements in music journals, and the organization’s website,

www.famefestival.org.

This year students from five continents, 21 countries, and 37 states

come to Lawrenceville for one or two weeks. They participate

in music theory classes and play in chamber ensembles and orchestras

or bands. Many students participate in classical music one week and

jazz the other, says Lindsay.

FAME widens the horizons of its students. It is also expanding the

scope of Mondre Moffett, whose "Wishbone Suite" concludes

the festival. "I think of the Wishbone performance on August 4

as a turning point in my career," Moffett says. "I’m looking

to more exploration of the mix of classical and world music, African

drumming, pentatonic scales, and native instruments that I used in

the piece. In my head I hear a certain kind of violins mixed with

African drumming. I touch upon it in Wishbone, but I want to explore

further."

— Elaine Strauss

Jazz Artists in Concert, International FAME Festival ,

Kirby Arts Center, Lawrenceville School, 732-477-7772. Top jazz

players in residence open the two-week series of nightly concerts

at the music festival and school. Featured in concert are Mondre

Moffett,

trumpet; Sir Roland Hanna, piano; John Pastin, sax; Jeff

"Tain"

Watts, drums; Delfeayo Marsalis, trombone; Mark Whitfield, guitar;

and Gary Mazzaroppi, bass. $20; $10 students & seniors. Sunday,

July 23, 8 p.m. Concerts and recitals take place daily at 8 p.m.,

through Friday, August 4.


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