Vocal Jazz Master Lenora Zenzalai Helm Makes First Trek to Aruba to Perform and Teach for Island’s 10th International Jazz Day Celebration

April 30 Performance to Include Professionals, Local and American Students

Lenora Zenzalai Helm - singer, composer and music education innovator as creator of the programs Vocal Jazz Online and The Vocal Musicianship Academy – has been chosen as the exclusive musical guest/artist in residence for the commemorative 10th Annual International Jazz Day in Aruba, taking place April 30 at the Renaissance Marketplace. Ms. Helm - who has also been selected as one of three out of 650 faculty members to receive this year’s highly esteemed 2015 North Carolina Central University Teaching Excellence Award this May at North Carolina Central University where she teaches - is taking her performance and academic mastery and sharing it with up-and-coming jazz musicians on the island.

The event (officially recognized by UNESCO and The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz as a satellite confab) is the brainchild of native Aruban Carlos Bislip. A percussion master, educator and creator of this annual traditional jazz event, Bislip has tirelessly pounded the drum for jazz – literally and figuratively – since bringing skills he learned at The Berklee College of Music in Boston back home for the artistic enhancement of his country. It was at Berklee that Bislip met Helm but it took thirty years and serendipity for them to discover that they had been travelling similar paths since their fateful graduation day.

Lenora shares, “This thrilling trip to Aruba is the manifestation of a dream I had when I started my program Vocal Jazz Online; to provide schooling for local jazz learners anywhere in the world and to develop a relationship that culminated in a performance. Carlos has been mentoring a cadre of young students and should honestly be on the Jazz Journalist Association’s list of ‘Jazz Heroes.’ On a shoestring budget – largely out of his own pocket – he’s stepped out on faith to hold this concert for ten years. Now the Aruba Tourism Board and other local businesses are funding part of the day.”

Bislip beams, “What caught my attention about Lenora 30 years later is when I discovered how dedicated she is to creating intelligent singers. When I saw what she was doing in long distance training, I felt it was an opportunity to give singers in Aruba access to a well-trained jazz singer. I’ve hosted her Skype lessons for them for 12 weeks - teleconferencing right here in my house.”

Emphasizing education as much as performance, Chicago-native Lenora will arrive in Aruba ahead of the concert on April 24, bringing three of her hand-picked vocal graduate students from North Carolina Central University where she teaches – Ti Harmon, Maurice Myers and Marvin E. Thorne, Jr. Together they will conduct Jazz Appreciation Month (J.A.M.) concerts for kindergarten-12th grade students, and Lenora will conduct a vocal workshop at the University of Aruba where her NCCU students will also present research. They will then rehearse a singing sextet comprised of Lenora’s Skype students that go by the name Aruba Vocal Jazz Ensemble which will be her opening act. Finally, Lenora will perform with her graduate vocal trio and Bislip’s seasoned trio of local musicians, outdoors under a tent at the Renaissance Marketplace - in sync with International Jazz Day participants around the globe. The show will include at least one new song of Helm’s since her last CD, I Love Myself When I’m Laughing.

“Bringing students with me reflects my inspiration from the Art Blakey school of jazz development,” Lenora explains citing the legendary jazz drummer and band leader. “If I taught them well, they should be able to share any stage or classroom with me. This past August in Durham, NC, I conceived and conducted a jazz vocal workshop at the pre-eminent jazz club, Beyu Caffe that turned into evening performance jams which drew a packed audience. 30 singers came to learn the ins-and-outs of the music in a non-competitive and nurturing nightclub environment. Informal schooling on the bandstand is really how jazz is taught and developed. I was inspired by the example of pianist Barry Harris whose evening workshops to teach community-based musicians I attended when I lived in New York.”

Summing up what will be her first trip to Aruba in grand, purposed style, Jazz Ambassador Lenora Zenzalai Helm concludes, “Wherever you send me, I want to spend all day talking about jazz to people that want to know about it, then spend the evening singing my butt off!”

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“It is such a humbling opportunity to share with the people of Aruba this amazing genre of music we love known as Jazz. This is not only a teaching experience for me, but also a learning experience. I am so excited to learn the history and culture of Aruba through the lives and experiences of the many music lovers there!”

- Marvin E. Thorne, Jr. / Graduate Jazz Student, North Carolina Central University

“I am very excited about International Jazz Day in Aruba! I’ve never been to Aruba so I am excited about new experiences in new places. I am grateful that sponsors like that of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and great jazz legends like Herbie Hancock have made it possible for me to participate in a cultural exchange such as this. I am looking forward to working closely with my vocal mentor, Lenora Zenzalai Helm, with whom I have studied for almost five years now. It is also very exciting to be able to represent my university, North Carolina Central University, internationally for the first time. This institution continues to provide such great opportunities for its students. I’m excited about sharing my studies of jazz with the students through presentation and performance. I am also looking forward to learning many new things and experiencing the culture in Aruba. I am certain it will be a time to remember.”

Maurice Myers / Graduate Jazz Student, North Carolina Central University

“It is an honor to be invited to take part in Aruba’s International Jazz Day. UNESCO, Aruba and the Thelonious Monk Institute have provided an exceptional opportunity for the cultural exchange between local and international musicians, and for the discussion of an American art form abroad. It is my pleasure to represent North Carolina Central University’s Jazz Studies program as an “ambassador of jazz”, and to work closely with my professor, Director of the Vocal Jazz Component, Lenora Helm Hammonds.”

Ti Harmon / Graduate Jazz Student, North Carolina Central University