By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Heroes were made Friday night in Pittsburg. Not the kind of heroes that you’ll see on a Wheaties box or on trading cards, but every bit as important.
Despite growing up in a sporting mecca, my sons have never been team sports enthusiasts. They absolutely love playing pickup games of basketball in the driveway after school, and enjoy playing baseball in the pasture. But beyond that ... well, to be honest, they’re just not interested.
And that’s OK. Everyone has their own thing, which is what makes this big old world so interesting. One of their things is music.
Pittsburg State University did a great thing a few years ago in starting Music Prep School, a way for local youths to have access to lessons on just about any instrument you can name. Music majors earn pocket money and gain experience in teaching, while our sons and many of their friends get instruction beyond the school day.
Connor Callahan, a PSU student from Prairie Village, teaches my sixth-grader clarinet and saxophone, while Cesar Sobrino, a PSU student from Paraguay, has been working with my sixth-grader and second-grader on piano.
So Friday night we loaded up the boys and grandma to attend the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band concert at Memorial Auditorium. As the featured performer of the 39th annual PSU Jazz Festival, it was attended by high school students from across Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri.
The Dizzy Gillespie band roster is impressive: Simply put, it includes the most noted jazz musicians of our day. They’ve worked with the likes of Gillespie, Count Basie, Miles Davis and Stan Getz.
The musicians rolled into town after a day of lengthy airport delays, but the reception they received in Pittsburg, leader John Lee told the crowd at the end of an hour and a half of horn-wailing, was well worth it.
“I’d do it all again tomorrow,” he said after the second standing ovation.
I smiled at seeing the balcony filled to capacity with young people wearing a rainbow of high school letter jackets from Pittsburg, Baxter Springs, Girard and Riverton in Kansas, and from Carl Junction, Diamond, Ozark, Republic, Willard, Strafford, Seneca, Nevada and Webb City in Missouri. They were on their feet applauding and hooting and hollering. These were their heroes, their Peyton Mannings.
But the bonus was the act that preceded the Dizzy Gillespie Band: the PSU Jazz Ensemble. Seventeen PSU student musicians took the stage under the direction of Bob Kehle and proceeded to blow everyone’s socks off.
We were so proud of Connor, who on the saxophone had three solos that were silky smooth. My son, waving and clapping for his teacher, was awestruck.
Saturday morning, when other kids were heading off to wrestling meets and to basketball tournaments, my son took his saxophone out of its case, put on his fedora — ’cause that’s what all jazz musicians wear — and began belting out tunes.
“I wanna be like Connor,” he said.
And that’s cool. Because everyone needs a hero.
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