Above, Foshay Learning Center music teacher Vincent Womack rehearses with the Jazz Ensemble.
His students have performed with R&B artist Alicia Keys, played at the House of Blues, and earned a prestigious Bravo Award for their high school, the Foshay Learning Center.
But it’s the opportunities, not the accolades, that motivate Vincent Womack as he teaches instrumental, vocal and music theory and history classes at the South Los Angeles campus.
“There are a lot of music programs that are designed for competition,” said Womack, who chairs the Music Department at Foshay. “My music program is designed to make kids better people. It’s about respecting the process of making music and the people we’re making it with … It’s the lasting value of the experience that we focus on.”
Growing up in a home filled with the piano and organ music played by his mother, Womack took up the trumpet at an early age. He left his native Alabama to attend the University of Michigan, where he earned an undergraduate degree in trumpet performance. A trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade with the Michigan Band convinced him to settle in Southern California.
He joined L.A. Unified in 1987, and has spent the last 23 years teaching at Foshay. In addition to the concert band and wind ensemble, Womack leads the Foshay Jazz Ensemble, which has performed at the Disney Concert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and at various venues in Paris. The accomplished musicians were even invited to accompany Keys on an episode of “The Queen Latifah Show,” a broadcast that so impressed Eddie Van Halen, the legendary rocker donated several of his guitars to Foshay’s music program.
This week, the 18-member Jazz Ensemble has another opportunity to work with industry professionals. Thanks to a partnership between the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in L.A., and the New York-based nonprofit JazzReach, the student musicians will perform Friday with the Metta Quintet in a sold-out concert at the Lovelace Studio Theater. The concert, “Sittin’ & Groovin’ Out,’ will feature classics by jazz luminaries including Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, Christian McBride and Freddie Hubbard.
“Education is an important part of our mission at The Wallis,” said Mark Slavkin, the former L.A. Unified School Board member who is now the director of education for the center. “We’re thrilled to support and showcase the great work of music teacher Vince Womack and his students by connecting them with JazzReach. I can’t wait to see the Foshay musicians play alongside these pros.”
The days leading up to Friday’s concert have been filled with intense rehearsals that incorporate the precision of the composers’ works and the spontaneity that is the hallmark of jazz.
“Things in music can sometimes sound bland without any direction,” Womack said. “We have a section in the performance where we do some collective improvisation. As we combine our talents, it’s a way to listen to each other and respect and complement each other. There is a lot of trust and respect, which will make the piece better – much like life.”
For some of the students, Friday’s concert reflects the lessons that Womack has tried to instill in them – about music and about life.
“There is a part in the improv section of the performance where we get to all be a part of this ‘journey,’” said Andrew Oropeza, a 17-year-old trumpet player. “We all come from different areas and express ourselves differently. But, at the same time, we sync ourselves together and find out how we all fit.”
Added 16-year-old trumpet player Lindsay Huerta, “I feel I have friends and family and a sense of belonging with the band. I feel more harmony in my life. And, with the help of Mr. Womack, I feel stronger and more confident in pushing myself to be better.”