What have you done to celebrate African American History month? Have you visited the African American Museum of Iowa? Taken one of the African American History trivia quizzes that proliferate in February? Read a book on or about the topic? Listened to some jazz?
Well, Ray Blue, will return to Cedar Rapids to play a fundraising concert for The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success on Feb. 23 from 7-9:30 p.m. The concert will take place in the McAuley Theatre on the Mount Mercy University Campus in Cedar Rapids. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Ray Blue present the jazz that forms a seamless bond between the culture it represents and the freedom it exemplifies, accomplished through a fusion of straight-ahead jazz and a rhythmic groove.
Ray Blue is a New York-bred saxophonist with Iowa roots, having graduated from both William Penn University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree, and the University of Iowa, earning a Master of Social Work. William Penn University annually presents “The Ray Blue Jazz Award.” Blue is a composer, arranger, and educator, who performs internationally. He is the founder of Cross-Cultural Connections, Inc., an organization that promotes jazz culture, performance and education.
I first met Ray Blue when his sons were still students at Washington High School, where I taught. I was impressed that whenever he returned to Cedar Rapids, Ray wanted to include jazz presentations to students. This, so many years later, still is his way — and it still is a need. At his last concert here, Ray asked the young people in the audience to stand. One lone young man stood; a disappointment indicative of our need to expose young people to this musical form that comprises an important aspect of our history.
It is our responsibility as adults to introduce and open our young people to new intellectual, literary, and yes, musical forms, so that they are prepared to think — to choose paths and directions, and not just numbly follow what is in front of them. This intention to teach young people the importance of their heritage as a platform for academic progress and productive life choices is the mission of The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success.
But this will not be a concert just for young people. It will be important for those of us who still have the ability and the wherewithal to influence young people. And perhaps most important, it will be a concert for those of us who just want to hear some good music. Here will be both a specific and universal means through which to wrap up African American History Month — What could be better?
“Ray Blue has a majestic presence … when playing, his sense of purpose is obvious. It’s one thing to be a good composer, it’s another to be a great performer. Ray Blue’s got the whole package.” said Jean Szlamowicz, a writer for Downbeat magazine.
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Tickets are $10 in advance, and are available at www.theacademysps.com; and $15 at the door. Mount Mercy University is located at 1330 Elmhurst Dr. NE.
• Ruth White is executive director and president of the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success.