Taking Notes: A new media approach to Black History Month

(Editor's note: The following was submitted by former Chronicle staff writer Timothy Cox.)

In support of Black History Month activities in the Augusta area, I was recently able to witness a more than effective scholastic program that neatly blended Black History topics with the American jazz music experience.

On Thursday, Feb. 16, a program called Taking Notes: Jazz & the American Story was demonstrated in an assembly-program located at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School's auditorium.

The program's audience included a mixture of A.R. Johnson students and students from the nearby historic Lucy Craft Laney High School.

The event lasted for about 90-minutes and was led by moderator Andre B. Mountain, Professional Learning Specialist with the Richmond County Board of Education.

Mountain, is an A.R. Johnson graduate, with degrees from Georgia Southern University and Wesleyan College in Macon. As a former teacher, he utilized his experience in classroom management skill-sets to ensure that students stayed fully engaged in subject matters that included a variety of topics.

Interestingly, Taking Notes took students on a nonstop journey from the Civil War era to the Jazz era, to Modern Jazz Fusion of the '60s and '70s to Hip-Hop and its jazzy-R&B origins.

According to Mr. Mountain, "the purpose of this program is to provide students with an engaging learning experience that appeals visually and musically and helps them make connections between what occurred in America and how those changes were reflected in a music often described as 'the sound of Democracy'."

He goes on to say, "Too often, students are presented with history from the page of a textbook, but history is most interesting when it is told as a story -- and it is even more powerful when primary sources such as photographs and music are included in the story."

The visually-appealing program included an interactive PowerPoint presentation, in addition to a live jazz quartet that included two former members of the James Brown Band. David Weston, on acoustic and electric bass guitars joined Joe Collier, a trumpeter who played with Mr. Brown's outfit over 20 years.

Rounding out the group is former Army Band percussionist and noted music instructor Northal "Not" Gaddy, along with keyboardist/vocalist Karen Gordon, a primary proponent of keeping jazz music alive in the Augusta region.

DJ "Big Meal" Hodge, a Bronx, N.Y. native, also provided an entertaining look at Hip-Hop and its jazz and R&B roots. Hodge's input helped provide the modern twist which helped to connect the dots for a clientele mostly born in the mid-1990s.

Taking Notes hits the road and takes the stage in Atlanta at Henry W. Grady High School on Monday, Feb. 27 from 9 to 10 a.m. The event returns to Augusta on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at the Academy of Richmond County High School from 9 to 10 a.m.

The group completes its current tour when they perform at Westside High School in Augusta during a 9 to 10 a.m. presentation on Thursday, March 1.

As a longtime Augusta area professional musician and journalist, I highly recommend that local history buffs and music lovers alike make provisions to witness this program which already has national appeal and implications, largely due to its professional presentation, attention to detail and stellar musical and historical production format in a lecture setting.

Mr. Mountain and the Richmond County Board of Education should be commended for developing such a creative, interactive and new-millennium view of Black History concepts, while presenting them in a fresh and exciting new-media format.

Expect great things from this uniquely interactive program, which importantly, maintained the full interest of mostly all the teenagers who were in attendance inside the A.R. Johnson facility last Thursday morning.

Special kudos are also extended to Karen Gordon, founder of Garden City Jazz, a local nonprofit agency, for agreeing to partner with Richmond County School System's Curriculum Department to complete this effective and valuable initiative.

For more information about the program, contact Andre Mountain at 706-306-4290.

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