The Diva Jazz Orchestra, an all female big band based in New York, performed live at Kutztown High School on March 22 for elementary, middle and high school students, as well as guests from Boyertown and Brandywine Heights school districts and Albright College.

“We have the Diva Jazz Orchestra here, which is a 15-piece all female big band, celebrating America’s music which is jazz. We have the Berks Jazz Festival coming up so this is a pre-concert to get people excited about getting their jazz on,” said Carl Zeplin, music teacher at Kutztown Area Middle School. “Particularly with the kids that are in our Jazz Band, they get to hear the real deal, the way (jazz) should be (played).”

Zeplin hopes the students gain an appreciation for the art form.

“We have students who study the trombone, the trumpet... They get an opportunity today to hear what it really should sound like when a big band gets together,” said Zeplin. “We’re grateful they took the time out to come out to (visit) such a small rural school district. We’re really happy to be able to have them here.”

Presented by the Berks Jazz Fest Education Committee, the Diva Jazz Orchestra performed later that night at a Pre-Berks Jazz Fest Concert at Building 24 in Reading.

“Jazz is America’s art form. We’re trying to keep it alive,” said Zeplin.

At Kutztown High School, Diva Jazz Orchestra band leader and drummer Sherrie Maricle presented a workshop. She shared with students her journey to becoming a professional jazz musician. At age 11, she heard Buddy Rich perform and at that moment decided to become a jazz drummer.

“All I wanted was to play jazz in New York,” she told students.

Maricle earned her undergrad, masters and doctorate degrees at New York University, studying with the top professionals in the field.

She offered advice to the young musicians, including doing focused practice rather than worrying about the length of time spent practicing.

“Listen to something you’ve never listened to before. Expand your music reservoir,” said Maricle, telling them to listen to different music styles. “Bring your best attitude and best musicality and you’ll be successful.”

Kutztown High School music teacher and Jazz Band director Dustin Shirk hopes his jazz students gain some insight on what it’s like to be a musician in the professional world. He said a visit from a professional big band is a significant experience for his students.

“It’s huge,” he said. “I think any musician, acoustic or electric, they want to play pop music, rock music, stuff like that. Jazz is fantastic. All the best pop music players are also jazz trained. Those guys make the best musicians and the most marketable in my opinion... I want the students in my band to see that you can be successful as a musician but you’re going to have to know these genres, especially jazz. It’s such an important genre to know to be able to play other stuff.”

Maricle said the big band players for Diva Jazz Orchestra come from all of the country. According to the orchestra’s website, http://divajazz.com, “The inspiration for DIVA came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band in which Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Stanley immediately picked up on her extraordinary talent and began to wonder if there were other women players who could perform at the same level. The search was on and through nationwide auditions, the foundation for DIVA was poured in 1992 and what emerged is the dynamic musical force that holds forth to the present day.”

“Jazz is America’s only true ingenious art form... Blues roots and Gospel music and even some folk songs mixed with African American tradition and European instruments kind of all fused together,” said Maricle. “It’s a genuinely crafted American art form; it’s our musical gift to the world.”

She hopes seeing a live professional big band play inspires students and gives them an appreciation for the music and that they see the uniqueness that the soloists individually bring to the art form of jazz.

“I love being able to share musical joy with people and I love to see a smile on someone’s face,” said Maricle. “They’re having a bad day and once they hear the music their fingers start snapping on two and four and it makes them feel good, I think that’s part of my mission.”

For more information about the Diva Jazz Orchestra, visit http://divajazz.com/.

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