Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Arts+Music Ed: LAYOFFS CLAIM L.A. BAND TEACHER WHO TURNED NOVICES INTO CHAMPIONS + ironic guest appearance by Herb Alpert, Fairfax HS, ‘53

Ray Vizcarra resurrected Fairfax High's band, teaching students to play instruments from scratch. They soon won all-city competitions. But L.A. Unified had to cut jobs, and he lacked seniority.

By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times |

Band teacher Ray Vizcarra has a new job in Beverly Hills.

At his new job in Beverly Hills, Ray Vizcarra shows students how to play a stringed instrument. He was one of thousands of teachers to receive a layoff notice this summer from the cash-strapped L.A. Unified School District. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / October 5, 2012)

October 9, 2012  ::  Most of the high school band members had never touched an instrument. Most had never marched; most couldn't read music.

But in the fall of 2006, Ray Vizcarra resurrected the Fairfax Marching Lions. Wearing red T-shirts, the band belted out the national anthem and school song at the first home football game of the season.

The band program at Fairfax High School had been defunct for two decades. But Vizcarra, the new, young band and orchestra director, had gone from classroom to classroom, recruiting students to revive it.

In five years, the band won more trophies than Vizcarra can keep track of. Fifteen months after the band's formation, the Marching Lions won their first of two Los Angeles Unified School District band and drill championships. The L.A. City Council honored Vizcarra in 2011 for his accomplishments.

But now Vizcarra is gone, and for the first two months of this semester, the band has been silent.

Vizcarra, 34, with only a few years of teaching experience, was one of thousands of L.A. Unified teachers to receive a layoff notice this summer as a result of a budget crisis in the cash-strapped school district. Vizcarra had gotten such notices before — layoffs are based on seniority — but his job was always restored just before the semester began.

Receiving the layoff letters, he said, had become a dreaded ritual.

"To me, that was my lifetime job," he said. "I was going to retire from Fairfax. I was really devastated."

Collecting unemployment and unsure whether he would be able to return to Fairfax, Vizcarra accepted a job as the orchestra and band director at Hawthorne School, a K-8 in the Beverly Hills Unified School District. He was told he wouldn't have to worry about layoff notices there, he said.

Just after signing his contract in Beverly Hills, Vizcarra was asked to come back to Fairfax, but the school couldn't guarantee he wouldn't be laid off again, he said. He chose to stick with Beverly Hills and its job security.

"Getting the notices makes people feel like we don't care for them," L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer said. "It makes people feel like they're expendable. It's a very cold and ugly and economic thing."

Fairfax recently hired a replacement band director, according to Zimmer's staff. However, the director has not yet begun teaching, and the band has not played at any of the fall football games so far.

Zimmer has received calls from parents, upset that the students began the year without a band teacher and were not performing.

Vizcarra's effect on his students was immeasurable, Zimmer said.

"How do you quantify losing magic?" he said. "How do you quantify taking away the reason a group of kids comes to school? It's only very rarely that you walk into an auditorium and you feel the kind of energy that you felt when Ray Vizcarra would conduct his orchestra or band."

Fairfax's years without a band were obvious when Vizcarra began there. The decades-old uniforms were unusable. His classroom was marked with graffiti, and it had so few chairs that the students had to stand during practice.

Pedro Rodriguez, 23, was in Vizcarra's first band. He was a sophomore when he joined, and he had never played the trumpet. But Vizcarra encouraged him and gave him a solo in 2007, when the band won its first all-city championship.

In the first few years, the band members wore old uniforms from Cerritos High School, bought for $10 apiece. They didn't quite match the Fairfax school colors, and they had "CHS" embroidered on the collar.

The students were happy to have uniforms and happy to have a band, said Rodriguez, who went on to study music in college and now works as a freelance trumpet player and music clinician.

"There was life there," he said. "There were smiles, there was laughter, there were tears."

Although glad to have put a band together in his first year at the school, Vizcarra did not want to settle. He pushed his students, taking the group of new musicians to competitions. They soon were winning so many competitions that trophies filled their classroom's shelves and spilled onto the floor.

"There was just something magical with my students at Fairfax," he said. "I would be in tears by the end of their performances."

Last month, Vizcarra's former band students threw him a birthday party. They presented him with a scrapbook and photo album depicting silly moments and performances.

"To the best music teacher we have ever had," they wrote on the scrapbook's first page. "You are such an amazing person. An awesome friend. A father to us most. Thanks for everything you did for us."

The Fairfax band's absence has been strongly felt this fall. The school's football team is playing on a newly built field, which held its first game this season without music.

In the stands during a recent game, Chantell Daniels, 20, watched cheerleaders dance after a Fairfax touchdown. Daniels, who graduated from Fairfax in 2010, had been a cheerleader in high school and shook her head as the squad performed, missing the sounds she remembered.

"Dancing to the band was my favorite thing to do as a cheerleader," she said. "The first thing I said when I got to the stadium tonight was, 'Where's the band?' "


2cents smf smf - Let me get this right: Vizcarra was a magical teacher at Fairfax. He was jerked around by seniority system and LAUSD’s low (no) priority for Arts+Music Ed, RIFed repeatedly, etc. He ended up making a decision to take steadier employment in his chosen calling even after LAUSD offered him his job back because the job in BH had job security. Because they appreciated his magic.

But LAUSD and Fairfax hasn’t found another music teacher to fill the void (if not the magic) after having laid off so many?  Is this an example of “If we can’t have the music teacher we want we don’t want a music program at all?”

  • I thought Arts+Music are part of the core curriculum.
    • In federal law.
    • In the state standards.
    • And starting yesterday afternoon, by Board of Ed  resolution.

 If students are the first priority everybody else can’t have everything else the want. You may quote me.

And how does the above possibly intersect with the following – also published yesterday – especially as LAUSD’s committeemen Arts and Music Ed as part of the core curriculum was ratified yesterday and sealed with promises for support from private philanthropy?

Herb Alpert graduated from Fairfax High School. Class of 53. Herb is LAUSD

Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss Celebrate 50th Anniversary of A&M Records  and in concert on behalf of Fairfax High School

Jay Weston, Huffington Post |

10/08/2012 6:59 pm  :: Imagine this... two guys have been partners for 50 years in the volatile music business, and until they sold the company in 1989 (for several hundred million dollars!), they didn't even have a written contract between them! Hard to believe, unless you know legendary musician/bandleader Herb Alpert and music master-promoter Jerry Moss. Then you would understand... these guys, who founded A&M Records 50 years ago, are truly exceptional in so many respects. Cool, collected, honest and, yes, tough... and did I mention exceptional talents? Herb, of course, is the brilliant trumpet player who took the Tijuana Brass to the heights of stardom with the help of Jerry's promotional efforts. As I write this, I am listening to the A&M Anniversary Collection, a 60-song three CD set featuring many of the biggest superstars in music whom they recorded... The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Styx, Bert Bachrach, The Police, Janet Jackson, Sting... so and many more. As Herb told me, "We were an artist-friendly label, so we stood behind the artists we believed in until they found their voice and an audience." I recall Sting was once quoted as saying, We definitely felt nourished and sustained by this creative team."

jerry mossand herb alpert

Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert at the recent Grammy Museum interview session.

The Clive J. Davis Theatre at downtown's Grammy Museum is a 226-seat gem in the the L.A. Live arena, and last week it was packed with music industry veterans and aficionadoes of their music as they reminisced about how they started. Jerry was the top promotional music guy in the country in 1962 when they decided to work together and scraped up $1,000 to make two records, one of which was a single by Herb called "Tell It to the Birds," which he originally thought would be good for the Beatles.

It sold several thousand copies for Dot Records and they got $750 for it. "We were working out of Herb's garage in West Hollywood at the time and invested it all in a record by Herb and The Tijuana Brass called 'The Lonely Bull,'" Jerry said. "We called it A&M Record #101, so people would think we had a hundred records before it." Herb took up the story:

I was going to Tijuana every Spring for the bullfights, and was intrigued by the brass band in the stands which introduced each fight. Although I never listened to mariachi music, it had a kind of magical sound, with a melody I liked which gave me goose bumps. We captured that feeling in the record, which we cut at Conway studios in Hollywood, and when it was done we played it for a disc jockey, who said to us it needed something more, a hook. He gave us a tape he had of 30,000 people yelling 'ole.' We added that at the opening, and it took off... calls came from all over the world and A&M was in business.

To hear Herb's new remix of the song, "The Lonely Bull," click here and then click on the blue button on the bottom of the screen to download free video. A wonderful experience.

Backgrond painting is by Herb

At the Fairfax High benefit, Herb and Lani Hall performed in front of a wondrous background painting by Herb!

A&M became one of the most important record companies the world has ever seen. The new CD set illustrates what a potent effect the legendary label is still having on contemporary popular music. I am fortunate enough to have known Jerry for many years, (our ex-wives were in the same charity group, SHARE, forever) and in recent years I have become friends with Herb and his oh-so-talented singer wife, Lani Hall, of Brasil 66 fame. As a long-time restaurant critic, I have been writing about their superb jazz-oriented eatery up on Mulholland, Vibrato, certainly the best place in ths city to hear cool jazz while eating hot food.

For many years their record company was headquartered at 1416 North La Brea, the former Charlie Chaplin Studios in Holywood, now home to Henson Studios. The state-of-the-art recording studio which Herb and Jerry built there is still the site for some of the best recordings made in the world today. Their studio was an amazing place and Jerry said, "People hung out there. You took a walk on that lot and you wouldn't believe who you would run into. It was interesting to everyone who worked there and it was lots of fun."

herb and jerry

Herb and Jerry 50 years ago at the founding of A&M Records... Photo by Jim McCrary

Herb Alpert and his lovely wife, vocalist Lani Hall, performed in concert on behalf of Fairfax High School at the Wilshire Ebell Theater on Saturday night. The concert was a benefit highlighting the school's 2012 Hall of Fame ceremony when four outstanding Fairfax graduates (Herb was class of 1953) who have contributed to their community were honored. My Huffington readers know that I am a huge Alpert/Hall fan, which is one reason why I was there. At New York's Lincoln Center this week, Herb and Lani are being honored for another startling act of generosity which they perpetuated: Two years ago Herb read that the Harlem School of the Arts was going to have to close its doors because of financial pressures. He offered a $500,000 matching grant to this wonderful community arts school, which helped them begin a financial recovery.

This is the uptown school which trains students in music, theatre, dance and the visual arts, even though they can't pay. They now serve some 1,000 students in the school and another 3,000 in schools throughout the city, including Saturday programs and efforts to help them get into college. Wondrous effect on their lives. Recently he went further, and the Herb Alpert Foundation gave them $5 million to get rid of the school's debt and create an endowment, with interest from this supporting student's tuition. Wow! Their foundation, run by a woman named Rona Sebastian, supports art initiatives, which range from elementary school to programs to give grants for artists in mid-career.

Listen to this: Since 1990, Herb and Lani's foundation has given more than $120 million in grants! Included in that is a major, major gift for the music school at the California Institute of the Arts, and then there was the creation of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Astonishing people. Out of the horn of that magic trumpet has come a bountiful gift to the world, and that's a high note that few people ever have hit.

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