Juilliard program fights to keep jazz alive, help it thrive

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- Jazz may seem like it is a musical genre with more of a niche audience these days, but one group of students at The Juilliard School is fighting to keep it in the mainstream.

"Jazz is king," as the old song goes, because "jazz is the thing that folks dig most." And those words still ring true at Juilliard, where the jazz students are good enough to play at Dizzy's club in Midtown.

The Juilliard Jazz program at the famous performing arts school is just a few steps from the WABC-TV studio on the Upper West Side. And at the school this week were a group of advanced students rehearsing for a concert.

Mathis Picard hails from France, where, as shown in the classic film "Round Midnight," the uniquely American art form has found favor, even more so than in the land where the music originated.

"It's like a folk music," jazz saxophonist and professor Bruce Williams said. "You know, any kind of folk music is passed on from generation to generation. What you don't want to do is have it lost."

Noah Halpern grew up loving jazz with all his heart, but he got no support from his high school pals.

"They would look at what I was doing, and they'd kinda looked down on it," he said. "Just because they didn't understand it."

Williams, however, understands perfectly.

"I love how honest he is with us," Halpern said. "I love how direct he is with us collectively, but also individually."

Williams teaches them as he was once taught.

"We're all students the rest of our lives," Williams said. "You know, I'm a student. I'm forever a student, and that's the good thing about the music. You're always a student."

Williams is generous with his time and talent, a talent incidentally that has allowed him to make a fine living playing throughout the Tri-State Area.
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