Bennett Atwater, a rising senior at Tatnall School, didn’t always love jazz.
A few years ago, he joked, he thought jazz was almost as boring as classical music.
But he liked playing guitar, and the only way to do that at school was to join the jazz band.
How the tables have turned: He eventually became infatuated with the art form and is now in the throes of an intensive two-week jazz program hosted by the Light Up the Queen Foundation.
Atwater is the youngest participant in the inaugural Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency, a selective program made to mirror (and in collaboration with) the Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program in Washington, D.C.
Atwater and 12 other young men – from places as far as Texas, Vancouver and Colorado, and whose ages range to 25 – have been living in dorms at the nearby Delaware College of Art and Design. They haven’t spent much time there, though, with a rigorous schedule of master classes, private technique and composition lessons, rehearsals and group ensemble classes. They’ve learned about the music business as well, including skills for resume-writing and how to market their music. The program is free, along with free housing and meal stipends.
No young women applied this year, but Tina Betz, the executive director of Light Up the Queen Foundation, said she hopes some do so next year.
The big catch was that for consideration, young musicians also had to be composers, she said. They had to arrive with a composition idea in hand, which they’ve each been molding into a piece the entire group will play at a finale concert on Sunday. This week, they’ve been performing certain selections of their work at lunchtime mini-concerts. The music is a diverse range of jazz, from reggae fusion to gypsy-style to ballads.
Atwater called the experience life-changing. “It’s made me realize music is something that has to be a part of my life for as long as I live,” he said, adding that he’s learned a lot and has been inspired by his peers. “If this has done anything, it’s relit my passion for music that I didn’t even know I needed.”
That sentiment is music to Betz’s ears.
“We hope that each of the participants have a transformative experience and leave here a much better and different person and artist than when they entered,” she said.
Betz said she’s excited about the success of the first year and plans to make the program an annual tradition: “Twenty years from now, I hope they’re wheeling me in on a wheelchair so I can watch the finale concert.”
See the thirteen perform (reservations are preferred but not required for Sunday):
- Thursday, June 25, at 7 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach
- Friday, June, 26, from 12 to 1:30 p.m. in the restaurant at World Cafe Live Upstairs at The Queen
- Sunday, June 28, at 3 p.m., the 2015 Graduates’ Concert at World Cafe Live Downstairs (Copeland Room) at The Queen