|© Ellie Falaris Ganelin|
Some years ago a boy named Sean Dobbins joined the jazz band at Washtenaw Community College that was directed by Morris Lawrence. Lawrence took in kids of every level of ability and had developed a repertoire of original tunes that could be played by anyone on any instrument. A small group of us sat in a circle as Doc--the name Lawrence always went by--familiarized himself with the new crop.
He instinctively realized that the young drummer was the one true talent in the group. To get Dobbins to focus, he suddenly started singing the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony--and asked the student to play what he was singing on the drums! Dobbins was understandably incredulous, but Doc patiently explained that it was all jazz--call and response, theme and development, and plenty of soul. He told him to go home and learn much of the first movement on the drum set. It was an amazing demonstration of pedagogical insight; some may find it eccentric, but it was a perfect example of Doc's marvelous way with kids and music. And it worked, because Dobbins stayed with the drums, grew up, and developed into one of the leaders of our jazz community.
Dobbins developed his skills in the Ann Arbor school system, where he was fortunate enough to study and eventually perform with Louis Smith. Early on in his career he perfected highly developed technical skills, while also demonstrating a serious love of jazz history. One drummer he has always admired is Art Blakey, a pioneer of modern jazz who for decades led one of the greatest bands in the history of the music--the Jazz Messengers. When Dobbins leads a group, it often seems to continue the story of the Messengers, and he has often used that word in the names of his bands. But while his concept is inspired and informed by a study of the hard-driving modern jazz of Blakey's groups, he takes the music in new directions.
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