Schools may be de-emphasizing music, but 'Jazz Intervention' is bringing it to youth


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Shawn Hopson has been involved in the promotion of live music for nearly a decade. Now he’s trying to encourage local youth to participate.

Mr. Hopson of Penn Hills is president and CEO of N-Motion Entertainment, a nine-member for-profit entity that has since its 2009 inception brought national smooth-jazz artists to the Pittsburgh region. He is sponsoring “Jazz Intervention,” a monthly program that he hopes will interest students in live music and inspire them to become performers.

To that end, he invites musicians from local high schools for a performance and workshop with professional musicians the fourth Sunday of each month at Latitude 40, an entertainment venue offering a variety of activities from bowling, arcade games and a sports bar to live comedy and dancing in the Pointe at North Fayette.

“We saw a need to connect with organizations that educated youth,” Mr. Hopson said. “The only way that’s going to happen is if the youth get it. They have to [nurture] a love for acoustic and live music,” as opposed to the computer-generated, drum machine-driven music that has dominated youth culture — and, as a result, pop music charts — for a couple of decades.

Mr. Hopson came up with that idea a couple of years ago when he and his wife, Lisa, who shares his passion for smooth jazz and also attends N-Motion events, were listening to music in their car, and she asked him, “What are we going to be listening to 10 or 15 years from now?”

“That’s kinda scary,” Mr. Hopson recalled thinking. Recognizing that arts education is getting short shrift in schools these days, he figured that musicians playing real instruments might spark interest if “[we] let ’em see it.”

N-Motion had a busy year last year, with trumpeter Rayse Biggs and saxophonists Eric Darius; Art Sherrod Jr.; Marcus Anderson, who currently plays with Prince; and Elan Trotman, who appeared recently with guitarist/​vocalist Jonathan Butler, performing at J.T.’s at the Club in Monroeville.

Last year, though, Mr. Hopson struck a deal with Latitude 40 to solicit live music for that venue — “they liked our vibe” — that caused him to put his plan into action.

“We told them we wanted to book our own event,” Mr. Hopson said. “They gave us a really nice deal on the room.” He said he told management, “If we have a really good turnout with the kids, we would like to make this a regular thing.”

In December, N-Motion sponsored a concert at Latitude 40 with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Trotman as headliners and the jazz combo — small group — at Shady Side Academy and the jazz ensemble — big band — from South Fayette High School opening for them. Horn-playing members of the South Fayette group were invited to improvise on stage with the two saxmen, and about a half-dozen students did so.

The show, which nearly sold out, got the ball rolling, Mr. Hopson said.

“We saw how well it was received by school administrators, music directors and students and parents — and our crowd,” Mr. Hopson said. “I did a survey, and every response I got was positive.”

This is hardly Mr. Hopson’s first foray into music promotion. From 2005 to July 2013 he ran Club Duo, which featured live jazz or R&B the first Friday of each month at the Holiday Inn in Oakland for what might be considered a more mature crowd — age 30 and older.

However, most of the artists who performed there were local, and he had his sights set on bringing in national acts. Last month, he attended the Berks Jazz Festival where many artists perform every March in eastern Pennsylvania in the hope that he would make connections to get some of them to Pittsburgh.

In February, jazz ensembles from Peters Township High School and California University of Pennsylvania performed following a workshop with local bassist Dwayne Dolphin. The event was a sellout and resulted in a standing-room-only audience.

“We’ve had a connection with the South Fayette band, so Shawn contacted me,” said Milt Barney of Bethel Park, the Peters band director. “We’ve done some high school things, so [I said,] ‘Let’s do things other than a high school facility.’ It’s a good opportunity for the kids to play in a legitimate location other than a high school — they were excited about it because some of them had been here with their families.”

The first two sessions featured student musicians mostly from suburban schools, but “I want to get some city schools [involved because] I don’t want them to feel left out,” said Mr. Hopson, who plans to reach out to Pittsburgh Allderdice and Pittsburgh Brashear high schools and the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Pittsburgh.

And there does appear to be interest, even though the timing may not have been the best.

“We’ve got four or five schools that said they couldn’t do it this year,” Mr. Hopson said, so “[we’re going to] keep them in mind for performing next year.”

The next session won’t take place until May 18 — at the earliest. There was no March session because the bands had other commitments. This month’s session was canceled, too, when workshop leader and trumpeter Sean Jones, who is a Duquesne University professor, could not make it.

In June, saxophonist Walter Beasley, who also teaches at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, is scheduled to come to Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.

Mr. Hopson said he intends to reach out to the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild, which provides education on the visual arts and has held a very successful concert series for nearly 30 years, albeit focusing largely on traditional acoustic jazz. Mr. Hopson said he hopes that when artists perform at the Guild they will stay an extra day to do a workshop.

Part of that, he admits, is to raise the profile of N-Motion Entertainment.

People “don’t know who were are — I think that’s one problem I have,” he said.

But Mr. Hopson takes the long view.

“Even if it’s just one kid who takes the music and does something with it, it will be worth it,” Mr. Hopson said. “Even though we might not like the same music, it’s still a universal language.”


Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.

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