As Faye Carol swings from side to side, clapping and grooving, her energy is immediately picked up by the line of young girls standing directly in front of her. Accompanied by a solo piano, each girl—with Carol’s encouragement—belts out their individual part of the tune they are rehearsing.
“Yeah that’s it!” shouts Carol, smiling wider and wider as the girls gain more confidence as their turns come around again.
One of the Bay Area’s most famous jazz and blues performers, Carol is training a young group of impressionable singers as part of a program called Music In The Schools. For three years, the program has recruited students from Oakland and Berkeley to be part of a year-long musical training institute.
“There is talent in every generation that comes along, “said Carol. “It always manifests itself in some way.” She added, however, that it’s not the obvious stars she’s looking for when she auditions people for the program. “I’m not looking for the person who is going to win American Idol. I’m looking for the person who has never explored their talent.”
Carol, whose accolades stretch way back, said she started the Music In The Schools program because she loves to teach, but also because of the recent drought in music education and opportunities for students. Because music has been such a huge part of her life, Carol said she’s dedicated herself to filling in the gaps so students have the same opportunity to experience and benefit from music.
Eight students, ages 13-19, went through the program this year, and on June 10 they will be performing at the Black Repertory Group where they’ve been rehearsing thanks to help from the theater and its director, Dr. Mona Scott. The Black Rep has sponsored the program and given Carol space for the rehearsals and performances for the past two years. When the program originally started, it was funded by a grant from the California Arts Council.
Several of the students this year, said Carol, had no formal musical training, and probably never would if it were not for the program. Most of them, she said, didn’t consider themselves singers until they discovered their talent through Music In The Schools.
“If it wasn’t for Ms. Faye, I probably would have kept it to myself, because nobody knew,” said Jazmin Noble, 17, from Castlemont High in Oakland. After two years in the program, Noble is an outgoing and confident singer.
Asked to describe the program she said there was no other way to put it other than “the love.”
“It’s a catharsis, it’s an obligation, I can’t see myself not doing it,” she said.
Since they started at the beginning of the school year, the students have been through Musicology 101, with singing lessons, music theory, music history, and anything else Carol thinks will help round out their music education. During the same time, said Carol, the students have blossomed. Their repertoires have grown, and during the performance the students will showcase a number of different musical styles and genres.
The class also has a style all its own, much of which comes from Carol’s own background as a performer.
Born in Mississippi but raised in California, Carol grew up singing in church choirs and at school. She continued to sing throughout college around the same time the Motown music was at its height.
She got her first break when she won a talent show at the Oakland Auditorium and was awarded a two-week stint as a singer performing with Johnny Tolbert at the one of the more well-known black clubs in the area. Just as Carol was gaining notoriety, however, disco came into the mix, displacing the live band and marginalizing the kind of music she was doing. Fortunately, Carol said, she was able to turn to her friend, Martha Young, the niece of the great jazz player Lester Young, and her eventual husband James Gamble, who versed her in other music genres and allowed her to continue performing.
Carol spent 10 years as a jazz and cabaret singer in the gay neighborhoods in San Francisco. Afterwards she built her own bands, establishing herself as an authority in both the blues and jazz scenes in the Bay Area.
Her range as a singer, she said, has helped her appreciation of music. And since she’s played so many different kinds of music, she said she’s willing to give anything a chance.
“We can say we don’t like something as a matter of taste, if a person doesn’t like it that’s their opinion,” she said. “I always teach my students that you at least owe yourself a listen, because you might be missing out on some you might really like.”
That’s why, in the music history part of the program, students start at the beginning and work their way to the present. “I don’t leave any stone unturned,” said Carol.
Students usually start around the time of Louis Armstrong and end somewhere around hip-hop, a form of music that Carol credits with re-invigorating an empty scene.
“By the time the hip-hop generation came along, there wasn’t a whole lot of ways to get music from one generation to the next,” said Carol, unlike the times, she said, when live music was more popular and musicians were people, not icons. “They had to create a way to express what was happening on the streets…and the rhythm of hip-hop, it was infectious.”
After a year of rehearsing, all the students say they are ready to perform. Each rehearsal is more intense and energetic than the last, as students continually build their confidence in the music and themselves.
“I’ve found jewels out there,” said Carol.
The performance by the Music in the Schools group is this Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. at the Black Repertory Group, 3201 Adeline St. For more information call 652-2120 or go to www.blackrepertorygroup.org.›