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FARMINGTON — Delbert Anderson may have turned out to be an accomplished jazz musician and band leader, but he admits he wasn’t always the most attentive music student when he was a youngster.

So when the trumpet player and front man for the Delbert Anderson Trio took a job this fall teaching music and leading the big band at his alma mater, San Juan College, he did so with a little apprehension, recalling how difficult he had made life for some of his teachers.

“One thing I was a little afraid of was handling discipline issues when kids aren’t paying attention,” he said, recalling his mindset when classes began in late August. “I had grown up always playing in jazz band (in school), and I was used to not paying attention. But it was different for this group.”

To his relief, Anderson found his students mature and focused, despite the fact that most of the approximately 20 musicians who make up the SJC Big Band are still high school students who are enrolled in the new San Juan College High School, an entity that allows students from high schools throughout the county to graduate in four years with both a high school diploma and an associate degree from San Juan College.

“They were ready to go, ready to learn,” he said.

The group performs its first concert of the season Thursday, Dec. 1 as part of the college’s Silhouette Series, sharing the stage with the San Juan College Rock Combo and the San Juan College Jazz Combo. The show also will serve as Anderson’s debut as the band’s director, though he has served in the role of band leader for many years for the trio, his nationally known jazz band that tours from coast to coast.

Anderson is excited to hear how his students respond this weekend, noting he’s seen a big improvement in their skills since rehearsals began in August. The group gets together every Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. and consists of a full rhythm section, along with saxophones, trombones, trumpets and vocals.

“The first two rehearsals, I was really nervous and not sure how things would work out,” Anderson said. “But by the third and fourth rehearsals, I was a lot more comfortable.”

Interest in the band was high from the beginning, he said, explaining that he actually had too many players on some instruments — two drummers and three bass players, for instance — leaving the outfit unbalanced. So he started a side project in the form of the jazz combo, a smaller group that plays jazz standards.

The groups are augmented by a handful of adult players from throughout the community, resulting in a wide range of ages among the musicians. Those older players likely already had an appreciation for and familiarity with the music the two jazz groups will play, but Anderson said he has been pleasantly surprised at how the high school students have responded to it.

“The kids have been really great,” Anderson said, explaining that when he presented the songs to them, he went to great lengths to educate them on the composers and the stories behind the songs.

“I told them about the composers but also the people who made the tunes popular,” he said. “I tried to tell personal stories whenever I could, and they seemed really tied to that. ... I gave them some fun history of the composers.”

Anderson came armed with some personal tales about Miles Davis because some of his teachers had met the legendary jazz artist at some point. The instructor even had some personal observations about Troy Andrews, aka “Tombone Shorty,” a well-known jazz musician, producer and actor who has worked with artists ranging from Lenny Kravitz, U2, the Foo Fighters, Madonna and Usher to Queen Latifah. Andrews also has performed at the Grammy Awards and the White House.

Anderson said he ran into Andrews at a National Association of Music Merchants show, and the two wound up having a 25-minute conversation. When he related that tale to his students, they were definitely impressed, he said.

“It was enough to get an idea of who he was,” he said. “And I think it gives them a sense of hope. They really like hearing that stuff. I think it made it more comfortable for them.”

Stories like that also make it easier for students to relate to music they may not have been exposed to before, he said.

“I think they have a lot more respect for this music when they hear those stories,” Anderson said.

The Big Band’s set list for this concert includes “Dat Dere” by Bobby Timmons and Davis’ “So What?” The band’s performance of the two swing tunes will be augmented by the presence of SJC music instructor Teun Fetz on vibraphone. Fetz helps lead the Big Band with Anderson and will direct the Rock Combo during its performance.

The Big Band also will perform “Gospel John” by Maynard Ferguson, a pair of Latin tunes, Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford,” Andrews’ “Buckjump” and Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why.” The set list will be filled out by tunes from Sonny Rollins, Jeff Steinberg, Rick Hirsch and Denis Diblasio.

Anderson said he has concentrated during the semester on getting his students to play with more energy. One of his favorite techniques as an instructor is to illustrate what he means visually, sometimes using his whole body to make a point. That approach has proven popular, he said.

“They get a kick out of it,” he said, laughing.

Most of his students come from a classical background, Anderson said, and some of the specifics of jazz technique are quite different from that approach. For instance, a classical crescendo rises gently, while the timing of a jazz crescendo is much more abrupt, Anderson said.

He also has strongly encouraged his students to test their limits, explaining that while classical technique teaches musicians to play strictly within certain confines, jazz music frees them to play with more abandon. That was a change that was difficult for many of his students to embrace, Anderson said.

“A lot of them wanted to stay in their safe zone, but I encouraged them to load up on air and let out a giant sound,” he said. “And now they’re producing a really true jazz sound.”

To Anderson, the group already has made the leap from being a polite, carefully controlled academic group to a confident outfit that really feels the music it is playing and isn’t afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool.

“A lot of them are still high school players, but they really stepped up,” he said. “There’s somewhat of an age gap, but the music we’re playing is bringing everyone closer together.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Concert by the San Juan College Big Band and the San Juan College Rock Combo

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1

Where: The Henderson Fine Arts Performance Hall on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

Tickets: $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors online at sanjuancollege.edu/silhouette or in person at the San Juan College box office

For more information: 505-566-3430

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