Farmington jazz band leader awarded $10k fellowship to mentor young musicians

D'DAT's Delbert Anderson teaching students the value of improvisation

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Farmington jazz bandleader Delbert Anderson has been awarded a $10,000 grant to mentor a group of local high school musicians who perform under the name The Third Hour.
  • Delbert Anderson is the trumpeter and frontman for the Farmington jazz ensemble D’DAT.
  • He was named the recipient of a Cultural Capital Fellowship on Jan. 25, which comes with the $10,000 grant.
  • Anderson, who is Navajo, was one of 12 people nationwide to be named a 2023 fellow.

FARMINGTON — A group of local high school jazz musicians will have the opportunity to take their act on the road this summer, thanks to their mentor, who recently secured a $10,000 grant to provide the students with technical support and professional training.

Delbert Anderson, trumpeter and frontman for the Farmington jazz ensemble D’DAT, was named the recipient of a Cultural Capital Fellowship on Jan. 25, which comes with the $10,000 grant. The fellowship was presented to Anderson by the First Peoples Fund, which is billed as the nation’s oldest Native-led organization dedicated to supporting indigenous artists. Anderson, who is Navajo, was one of 12 people nationwide to be named a 2023 fellow.

Anderson said he will use the money to build a curriculum for the group The Third Hour, which consists of eight local high school students who began performing jazz music together over a year ago. Anderson became acquainted with the group when he saw it perform at Farmington’s Encore Coffee in February 2022, and he was so impressed with the students’ talent and ambition that he asked if he could mentor them.

The students agreed, and Anderson quickly worked to integrate The Third Hour into the community music programs at San Juan College, where he was an adjunct instructor. He also set about finding the group other performance opportunities and pushing the limits of the musicians, helping them not just become more technically proficient, but to continue to experiment with improvisation, an essential skill in the jazz world.

“I could tell there was a certain hunger,” he said, explaining what drew him to The Third Hour. “They were very well disciplined, too. They can be critiqued and won’t have a problem. They’re good listeners.”

Anderson said musicians in the group were already improvising the first time he saw them, something he regarded as remarkable among players of such a young age.

“It’s really cool to see a group so young in Farmington doing that,” he said. “I never had that chance when I was young.”

The Third Hour, a group of Farmington-area high school jazz musicians, will record an album and embark on a five-city tour later this year.

Anderson — who is developing the curriculum with Farmington High School band director Alex Olivas and Franklin Piland, a Texas middle school music educator who arranges material for D’DAT — is intent on demonstrating to the young musicians that building their improvisation skills is something that will serve them well both as musicians and as people.

“Improvisation can change your life,” he said, noting that he wants the young musicians to learn to roll with the punches that the musical world and the real world throw at them. “Those who live by improvisation tend to get along better. You’re going to be better off if you’ve done a lot of preparation for anything. That’s what the program is going to teach – be prepared for life’s events.”

Anderson plans to illustrate that point by citing the challenges the Navajo people faced when they embarked on the Long Walk, when they were forced at gunpoint by the U.S. Army to march from their homeland in the Four Corners area to Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico in the 1860s. The Navajo people survived only because they learned to adapt to new surroundings and new circumstances before they were allowed to return home many years later.

Anderson is teaching the members of The Third Hour to adopt some Native tunes for their repertoire, and he said the group has plans to perform some of that material when it goes into a Santa Fe studio later this year to record. He said he was enormously pleased by the fact that some members of the group already are composing original material at a time when most young performers are content to perform standards.

“They’re beginning to play what they want to play now,” he said. “And the stuff they’re coming up with is pretty advanced. … That’s refreshing, and it’s nice to see.”

During its trip to South Africa last fall, the Farmington band D'DAT performed and recorded with Navajo singer Alexandria Holliday, second from right, and Zulu singer Nelisiwe Mtsweni, second from left.

The highlight of the group’s experience will come in June, when The Third Hour embarks on a five-day tour arranged by Anderson, with performances scheduled in Farmington, Gallup and Santa Fe, as well as Cortez and Ignacio in Colorado.

“The idea is to get them equipped and ready to tour, as well as give them insight into what touring really is,” he said.

Rachel Nez, the First Peoples Fund fellowships program manager, said in a news release announcing the fellowships that the organization’s 2023 recipients are an exciting and empowering mix of artists and culture bearers “who are ensuring cultural and ancestral knowledge continues to be practiced in their communities.”

Lori Pourier, the president of the First Peoples Fund, said in the news release the organization believes in the transformative power of the artists and culture bearers to strengthen and uplift communities.

“No matter their medium, each artist shares a story reflecting their incredible range of indigenous cultures across the United States,” she said. “Whether growing their entrepreneurial spirit or revitalizing, reconnecting and reclaiming ancient Indigenous practices, their work illuminates what is possible and inspires others. Their success creates a ripple effect that impacts their community and beyond.”

The grant attached to Anderson’s Cultural Capital Fellowship is only the latest cash award he has earned in recent years. Even as D’DAT’s star continues to rise nationally and internationally — the group will be featured in an upcoming New York Times profile and perform before thousands of people in October 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of legendary rocker Peter Gabriel’s World of Music Art and Dance Festival — Anderson has secured tens of thousands of dollars in grant money that he has used to build the Farmington music scene and promote local music education.

During its foray to South Africa, D’DAT performed and recorded with Navajo singer Alexandria Holliday and Nelisiwe Mtsweni, a South African singer of the Zulu people. Anderson said a single from that collaboration will be released on March 8, while an entire album of material will come out on April 1 on a South African label.

Anderson is expecting the recording to make a significant splash, especially since The New York Times piece is being timed to coincide with its release.

“What that thing comes out, it’s going to be crazy,” he said.

The Farmington jazz group D'DAT will be the subject of an upcoming New York Times profile and is planning a CD release event in New York City this summer.

To capitalize on that, D’DAT is in the process of organizing a release event in New York City in June or July, he said. That engagement will be nestled in among a slew of dates D’DAT already has booked this year, a series of shows that includes performances in Missouri, South Dakota, Washington, California and Colorado, along with a return trip to South Africa for this year’s WOMAD Festival.

It’s all a bit dizzying for a group that just a few years ago was virtually unknown outside the Four Corners area.

“There’s so much momentum going on right now,” Anderson said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 Support local journalism with a digital subscription: