Ten years ago, I helped my wife and two other 1993 graduates of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts plan their 10-year reunion. (I graduated from the same school a year earlier than they did.) We ended up losing money on the deal, because we hired a disc jockey who turned out to be an unnecessary expense. As it turns out, when you haven’t seen someone in 10 years, you want to talk with them, not dance with them.
I was reminded of unnecessary expenses on Friday night when I attended Flying Horse, a benefit for my alma mater’s Advisory Board. The organizers booked the Branford Marsalis Quartet to close the show, and they absolutely didn’t need to. Don’t get me wrong; I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to see Marsalis perform live, as opposed to all the people around me who made a beeline to the valet stand when the saxophonist announced that the quartet’s fourth song, “In the Crease,” would be its last. But the talent displayed by Booker T.’s current students was enough to bring the house down and give the patrons — who bought tickets starting at $125 — their money’s worth.
There were two incredible modern dance pieces. The orchestra performed Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” in the dark, with glowsticks affixed to their bows. A female vocalist and male guitarist gave us a haunting version of “Killing Me Softly.” The Latin American ensemble shook things up while shaking their groove thangs. And a jazz combo did an awesome rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” It was enough to make me and my wife, who were already proud Booker T. alums, swell with even more pride.
And then Marsalis’ quartet took the stage. Technically, they were superb. But you could tell that this was just another paid gig to them. The students, on the other hand, were performing with passion, the kind of passion that only comes from pride in your school.
Memo to the organizers of next year’s Flying Horse: Quit while you’re ahead. The kids are more than all right.