Anyone familiar with the history of jazz in St. Louis and its neighbor East St. Louis, will regale you with tales of the famed East St. Louis Lincoln High School jazz band program under the direction of saxophonist Ron Carter (now Director of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University).
When Carter took over the program in 1977, the enrollment had dwindled to 15 students. Within two years, more than 100 were enrolled in music programs, touring Europe, making records and playing to international acclaim alongside legends like Wynton Marsalis. Carter led the program in East St. Louis for 18 years producing some of today’s greatest jazz musicians, including Russell Gunn, Reggie Thomas, Tony Suggs, Terreon Gully and Montez Coleman to name a few.
The music program at Lincoln fell apart shortly after Ron left in 1995 to take over the program at NIU. Since then it has struggled to stay afloat until one of his students, Delano Redmond, returned six years ago to teach music alongside John Barnes at East St. Louis Senior High (Lincoln has since been razed).
In 2008, Jazz St. Louis formed a relationship with the music department at East St. Louis Senior High, bringing it into our Adopt-a-School program. Since then we have been able to support the department by providing instruments for and artists to work with the students. Artists that have been to the high school under the Adopt-a-School banner include Greg Osby, Rodney Whitaker, The Clayton Brothers, Terell Stafford, Mulgrew Miller and Terence Blanchard.
Without going into too much more history, there have been a lot of struggles, but Delano has managed to grow the jazz program to a point where the band is a force to be reckoned with once again.
In another huge leap forward, yesterday Delano was informed that the band has been selected as one of 15 bands from across the US as finalists in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington high school jazz band festival. This year 110 bands vied for one of these coveted 15 spots and one of the programs in our very own backyard has been chosen for this honor.
So, congratulations to Delano and the students of East St. Louis Senior High’s jazz band. You have worked tirelessly and hard and deserve this honor.