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Jazz spurs teen's musical career

Classical music and jazz mix for a funky combo

Carla St.Louis | 4/17/2014, 9 a.m.
Carla Robinson, 18 of Ft. Lauderdale plays classical music and jazz on the piano. She's enrolled in Dillard Center for the Arts (DCA), a performing and visual arts program within Dillard High School, the first public magnet school for Blacks in Ft. Lauderdale.

It's rare that a young girl born in this generation would enjoy jazz music more than pop music, but that's the case when it comes to 18 year old Ft. Lauderdale native Carla Robinson.

"Music in general is a mood altering drug, but man, jazz makes you dance," said the bubbly pianist. "I wanted to swing as hard as cats like Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Hampton Hawes and Sonny Clark."

According to Robinson, her favorite element about jazz is how its various sounds and fluctuating tempos mix to create fluidity.

She attributes her love for it to the Old Dillard Museum (ODM) located at 1009 NW 4th Street in Ft. Lauderdale after a friend invited her to watch their jazz band.

"I went to jazz camp held at Dillard, and I fell in love," she said recalling the first time she heard a pianist play classical music. "Once I got around people who played the genre, and started listening to it all the time I thought to myself, "Man I've gotta learn to do this."

And learn she did in the form of honing her skills by ear and regularly tapping the ivory keys at church services.

Robinson's passion for jazz led her to enroll in Dillard Center for the Arts (DCA), a performing and visual arts program within Dillard High School.

She's currently a senior at Dillard and a member of DCA's jazz assembly for the past two years. "These two years has taught me a lot about being a big band pianist and having to listen across the band stand," said Robinson.

Robinson also believes her penchant for jazz comes from the genre's flexibility and freedom for creativity.

"I simply love that I can express myself fully," she said. "When people see me play they notice that I'm really "into it" [saying] I appear as if I am about to fall off the bench! I just laugh because people usually don't understand how I feel about [jazz]. It's just my emotions pouring out of me and into my fingers."

Through her enrollment at Dillard--Ft. Lauderdale's first public magnet school for Blacks--the ingenue is lucky enough to learn under acclaimed musicians such as Stephen Scott, Mari Bell and Nicole Yarling.

"They are basically my support system and I can honestly say I wouldn't play half as good, or know half the information I know now if it wasn't for them," said Robinson of her close-knit unit. "If we aren't rehearsing, we are out 'gigging' which is just a blessing within itself."

Robinson's blossoming career has led her to performances at the Rose & Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center at Nova Southeastern University and ODM. Last week she was featured at ODM as a member of the WDNA Jazz Encounters Ensemble led by Yarling and Wendy Pederson.

As for Dillard High School, it was established in 1907 for Blacks in Broward County as a result of segregation. It incorporated two magnet programs in an effort to integrate and expand the school's student curriculum.

The school is known for its emphasis on education as well as the performing arts, earning an "A" grade on Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for the 2013-2014 academic year. The school's chorus, chorale, gospel choir, jazz band and rock band regularly performs throughout Broward County.

On average, the program enrolls approximately 225 students annually according to Israel Charles, artistic director for DCA.

This year, Charles said he expects the enrollment numbers to rise to 300.

DCA also provides training in dance, music, theater, and visual arts, along with an academic schedule.

With a budding pianist career on the horizon, Robinson sees no limits to jazz.

"Jazz can pick you up, turn you around, throw you into the air, and then catch you and place you back onto the ground in one fluid motion," said the teenager. "That’s what good music should be able to do; that’s what jazz does for me."