Students learn, listen to jazz music

Matty Matt and the Activists performed jazz and taught students at Redding Elementary School about one of America’s oldest art forms.

Matt Criscuolo stepped out of his role of restaurant owner and performed jazz with his band for students at Redding Elementary School during a recent lunch period.

Mr. Criscuolo is the owner of Wilton Pizza & Jazzeria, Toozy Patza Pizza, Bistro 7 Wilton, and Piccolo Pizza & Pasta Jazzeria in Ridgefield. Linking these restaurants together is the love Mr. Criscuolo has for jazz.

After being asked by Megan Heuer, Redding Elementary School Parent Teacher Association member and organizer of the lunchtime music series, Mr. Criscuolo and his band, Matty Matt and the Activists, played music for students during lunch on Nov. 20.

Between songs Mr. Criscuolo talked to students about jazz, what makes a song, and how to listen to jazz. He asked students to imagine it as a conversation between musicians.

“This music is so American, it goes back to almost the beginning and is a first true art form,” he said. “I want the kids to catch on to it.”

At the end of their set, Mr. Criscuolo took questions from students.

“How do you play the guitar?” was one question, which led to an introduction of the musical instruments.

Tony Purrone, on the guitar, told students the difference between an electric guitar, which plugs into an amplifier, and an acoustic guitar. He also showed students that he plays the guitar with a pick to strum the strings, instead of using his fingertips.

Preston Murphy plays a 200-year-old bass. He showed students that he can play the bass with his fingers or with a bow. Mr. Murphy said he has been playing the bass since seventh grade.

Ben Bilello plays the drums for the band and showed the students how his feet do different things and control different drums. He also pointed out the high hat cymbals and different accessories with which to play the drums. He showed students that they can use their hands to hold drumsticks, brushes, mallets, or hot rods, which are quieter sticks, he said.

“In jazz, the bass and drums play together, called a ‘walking’ bass line,” said Mr. Criscuolo.

Mr. Criscuolo plays the alto saxophone and showed how he uses all his fingers to play the instrument. He told students he has been playing since the age of 10.

He told students to expose themselves to all types of music.

“Don’t shortchange yourself,” he said.

Mr. Criscuolo said he played at the school because he wants to educate young students about jazz.

“Young kids are open-minded,” he said. “They’re at the point where they haven’t labeled it and consequently decided to not like it because it’s not popular.”

He said he would like to come back and perform at the school and also perform at other schools and educate students on “what is American’s probably first true art form.”

To listen to Matty Matt and the Activists, go to jazzeria.com or mattcriscuolo.com.

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