Corrections or additions?
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
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
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
It consists of Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music to "A
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
As you develop you include discipline. But must start with the freedom
"After I can get a student to understand the concept of
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
for admission to the FAME program. "I look for a sense of
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
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
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
advertisements in music journals, and the organization’s website,
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
— Elaine Strauss
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
trumpet; Sir Roland Hanna, piano; John Pastin, sax; Jeff
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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