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September 19, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona ArtBeat: Phoenix Symphony Season

  |   Video
  • The Phoenix Symphony’s new season kicks off this month. It will include visits by movie maker Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. Phoenix Symphony President and CEO Jim Ward will talk about the upcoming season.
  • Jim Ward - President and CEO, Phoenix Symphony
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: phoenix, symphony, events,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Phoenix symphony's new season kicks off this month. It will include visits by movie maker Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. Phoenix Symphony President and CEO Jim Ward joins us to talk about this upcoming season. It's good to see you. The title is “Big Names, Big Music.” You have some pretty big names in here.

Jim Ward: We have a wonderful season, Ted, and it is big names and big music. You can’t get any bigger than Steven Spielberg and John Williams.

Ted Simons: Talk about what John Williams and Steven Spielberg are doing here and how do they get here.

Jim Ward: In my previous lives I spent over a decade working with George Lucas at LucasFilm, and I was fortunate to meet a lot of great people including John Williams and Steven Spielberg. When I took over the Symphony, one of the goals I made was to somehow get John to come to Phoenix. I knew Michael Gorfay, his agent, and over a couple years of drip feed to make that happen, it happened. Not only do we have John but Steven is coming as well, doing a benefit concert for the Phoenix Symphony for education outreach. All of their services are for free and they are coming and donating all the dollars to the Phoenix Symphony.

Ted Simons: Williams will conduct music used in Spielberg's films? Is that how it works?

Jim Ward: The first half of the show John will come out and conduct non-Spielbergian music like my Alma Mater, "Star Wars." Then in the second half, Steven will come out and conduct a master class on filmmaking and scoring. He's going to sit on a stool and talk to the audience and we will play different scores from his music. But not only that, he'll talk about his collaboration with John. We'll also have a giant screen where we're going watch scenes from his movies, from Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example when Harrison Ford is riding horses and chasing the Nazis, and we will play that without the music. Steven will talk about what he thought the music should be for that, and then we’ll play the scene with music, and people will have the opportunity to see how that scene comes to life with music.

Ted Simons: That sounds fascinating. Are they touring behind this? Are they making a couple stops here and there?

Jim Ward: No, no, we're very special. They have done this at the Kennedy Center and once in Atlanta. But it's a special event for us. As you know, Steven is from here originally, went to Arcadia High School.

Ted Simons: Indeed.

Jim Ward: So it's somewhat of a homecoming for him. We're very lucky to have both John and Steven come and benefit the Phoenix Symphony and our community.

Ted Simons: That sounds like great stuff. And again “Big Names, Big Music,” a lot of pops in here, as well. Was that Otto McDonald doing show tunes? A Tony winner doing show tunes?

Jim Ward: We have a great pops season lined up. We have increased it by a couple of concerts due to popular demand. We're bringing in Audrey McDonald, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, the Indigo Girls. We just have a great season in pops as well.

Ted Simons: For those subscribers or those who go to the symphony expecting to hear Beethoven and Bach, and they are not all that crazy about the pop stuff, how do you explain that the cast of Jersey Boys singing The Beatles and The Beach Boys is not such a bad thing?

Jim Ward: It’s not a bad thing at all. We were bringing in a group called The Midtown Men, who were the original Jersey Boys, to come in and rock the stage with 60s music. And we have a wonderful women’s luncheon that day as well called Savor the Symphony. It's a great, great fun time. But you know, we have different audiences, too. We have people that love classic concerts and that's the music they like and they buy subscriptions and single tickets. We have people that buy pops concerts. Sometimes they overlap but people like different kinds of music. We have that, and we even have family programming for families, as well. It's an entirely different series.

Ted Simons: I noticed that Mary-Chapin carpenter will be here, she's a pop artist, as well, but backed by an orchestra. So a little bit of both.

Jim Ward: That's right. And that’s a trend now, it's quite an honor great to do solo with her band but also wonderful to sit in front of a 70-piece symphonic orchestra, playing lush, beautiful music. It's a different experience for them and a lot of them are doing it. We brought in Idina Menzel and sold that out last season.

Ted Simons: How far do you veer from the "War Horses", the classics, the Beethovens? You’re opening up with Beethoven’s Ninth, correct?

Jim Ward: This weekend is our opening weekend, with just the masterful and joyous Beethoven's Ninth. Our Phoenix Symphony choir, 140 members of the choir on the stage, 70 members of the symphony on the stage, soloists. It’s fantastic and amazing, and it ends with the Ode to Joy, which everyone's familiar with. We also have concerts that pair these more well-known pieces with pieces people might not be as familiar with, but they are going to be exposed to them. We often hear more often than not it's the pieces they hadn't heard before they enjoy the most, because it's a new experience.

Ted Simons: And you’re going to have, in the classical world, a superstar in Lang Lang here, correct?

Jim Ward: We are. Lang Lang, who I kind of call the Elton John of the classical piano world. He's a young, dynamic, amazing young Chinese performer. Who has just taken the world by storm He wears tennis shoes when he plays but amazing facility, technique, emotion. We’re bringing him in, and it's going to be a fantastic concert.

Ted Simons: Early response from patrons so far to a fairly diverse schedule? What are you hearing?

Jim Ward: Clearly we're almost sold out on opening night. That's going to be happening tomorrow, so if people want to come down there are still some tickets left. Get on the phone or go to our website: Clearly, Spielberg/Williams is sold out. But there’s a long season all the way through May and June of next year that people can still get subscriptions and single tickets to, and we urge them to do that. And Ted, by the way, a subscription you can get for just three concerts with all the benefits of a subscriber. It's not that hard to become a subscriber of the Phoenix Symphony.

Ted Simons: Let’s talk about how the Symphony’s holding up in terms of finances. How’s it going? Rough times here as of late, we've had you on in previous years and a rocky ship there, what are you seeing?

Jim Ward: We’ve had a great team down at the symphony on board, and the community rallied behind this symphony. Over the past almost three years we've been able to take it from a deficit situation to where we've just closed our books at the end of this past fiscal year and were in a surplus situation. We have paid down all of our debt and have increased capacity and utilization of our concerts by over 50%. So we have stabilized the organization and we have been used as a benchmark for the entire country in terms of a turn-around, and with our labor management relations, with our musicians. If you look across the country many orchestras are on strikes or walkouts. We have a great relationship with our musicians because they have truly sacrificed for this community.

Ted Simons: And I remember when that relationship wasn't always so great, are you turning it around with the same bunch of folks? Has there been turnover?

Jim Ward: It’s the same folks. In any relationship it's about communication, it’s about open and honest and transparent dialogue. It's sharing the financials, so everyone knows what's at stake and then working together to solve the problems. We have brilliant musicians who aren’t just great as musicians, but have been with the symphony for 30 years and understand how it works inside and out. I've learned a lot from our musicians in how to solve these problems. Working with them together, rather than an us versus them situation completely has transformed this symphony and how we operate.

Ted Simons: Last question: in a social media world that's changing all the time, people don't even go to sporting events like they used to. How do adjust? How do you manage this?

Jim Ward: There's nothing really that can replace the magic of a live performance. There are ways people can digest entertainment on the internet, no doubt about it. But it doesn’t replace a live performance. And we’re finding that our patrons, by the fact that we’re selling out, want to experience these kinds of activities live and see these kinds of people. It’s one thing to watch John William and Steven Spielberg on TV. Rarely do you get an up close and personal experience with them live. So, to the degree we can create entertaining programming and create the magic around the live performance, I think it’s very worthwhile for people to be involved.

Ted Simons: Thanks so much, good to have you. Good to see you.

Jim Ward: Appreciate it.

Mason Jar

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  • For more than two decades, the Mason Jar was a fixture of Phoenix’s music scene. By the time it closed in 2005, the Mason Jar had welcomed thousands of performers, including one musician who won’t let go of the past. We’ll show you the efforts of that musician to put on a Mason Jar encore.
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: performance, music, musicians, mason jar,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: For more than two decades the Mason Jar was a fixture of Phoenix's music scene. By the time the Mason Jar closed in 2005 it had welcomed thousands of performers including one musician who refuses to let the past go. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Ed Kishell show us how that musician's passion for The Mason Jar is leading to an encore of sorts.

Christina Estes: The sign along Indian School Road reads The Anvil. But for Glen Crimson, it will forever be his version of Cheers.

Glen Crimson: A lot of us were big fish in a little pond.

Christina Estes: He and the other fish are diving back in.

Glen Crimson: Cool.

Christina Estes: For one special night called Legends of the Mason Jar.

Glen Crimson: And this building, you know, only holds a couple hundred people. But when it was packed in here you just felt great.

Christina Estes: Crimson’s band, The Spiffs, played the Mason Jar when it opened in 1979, and he kept playing with his second band, The Urge.

Glen Crimson: In Phoenix if you're a musician you're pretty much forced to play cover songs. You had to play cover tunes, you had to play “My Girl” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Brick House” just like the record. Us musicians whose wanted to play originals, this was the only place to do it.

Danny Zelisko: The Mason Jar was around when, you know, in the 80s before a lot of bands became big. So when they were doing their first tours, they would come through and they would play this place.

Christina Estes: Promoter Danny Zelisko booked some of the acts and hung out there with the others.

Danny Zelisko: I remember being in the place with Bon Jovi, he didn't play but we went to see somebody there. I remember being there one night with Tommy Lee, it’s the dump you go to, to go have a drink, check out the scene and see what's going on.

Christina Estes: Nearly a quarter century later, Crimson still gets excited over the time the producer of The Cars showed up.

Glen Crimson: The Cars was the biggest band right then. The stage was right over there and he was sitting right there. This girl was with him and goes hey, Roy would like you to play an original if you could. So we started playing an original, and he walked out halfway through the song. Awesome!

Christina Estes: Local acts like The Jetsons, Blue Shoes and Schoolboys performed on the same stage as Megadeath, No Doubt and Nirvana. Zelisko described The Mason Jar as a hole in the wall but means it in the nicest way.

Danny Zelisko: It's kind of like when people think of Wrigley Field. Everybody loves Wrigley Field. Any baseball player who is now used to Camden Yards and Diamondbacks Park, they have these luxurious, giant dressing rooms and lounge chairs and sauna beds. Wrigley Field is a hole but it's my favorite park in the world.

Christina Estes: It’s that sentiment that drew Crimson back.

Glen Crimson: I have certainly played in this building more than any human alive.

Christina Estes: And he's ready to do it again. That's why he hit up bartender Kyle McDonel with the idea of a 80s rock band reunion.

Kyle McDonel: I referred him to the management, and said, well, pitch it to them and see what they say. And he did.

Glen Crimson: Well, I never heard of you, I know the Mason Jar was something in the day, but I don't know anything about it. So we're not interested. I left -- I almost cried and called my guitar player – and I’m getting teary-eyed. So this building has a lot of history for me.

Christina Estes: Although he never experienced the Mason Jar, McDonald says seeing people visit and reminisce, has made him a fan.

Kyle McDonel: The way people act when they came in here, you could just tell, it was their childhood, they were young and having fun. They weren't in a recession and worrying about who was President, it was about the music and I got it.

Christina Estes: So he worked with Crimson on a second pitch, and they got the green light.

Glen Crimson: We’re gonna play in this corner, we will set up staging here in this corner.

Christina Estes: As crimson worked with the anvil to turn back the clock, he's hearing from a lot of older rockers.

Glen Crimson: “I just want to play there one more time.” “My family wants to see me play there one more time.” “I've talked to this guy, I remember we used to hate each other back in the day and now we're just best friends and respect each other.” And it's --

Danny Zelisko: That's what the concert experience, that's what it's all about, that mass gather of humanity, whether it's 100 people or 10,000 people. Everybody getting together and enjoying something in the same room at the same time is what it's all about.

Glen Crimson: Whatever it's called even 20 years from now, it'll still be the Jar.

Ted Simons: The Mason Jar reunion will be tomorrow night at 23rd St and Indian School. We're told that nine bands will perform along with a special guest appearance from Franco, the long-time owner of the club. That is it for now. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Rodel Education Forum

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  • The Rodel Foundation of Arizona, which is committed to helping create a world-class system of public schools in Arizona, is hosting an education forum to foster a conversation about better education. Education leaders will act as “table hosts” to facilitate discussions with leaders from the business and education worlds. Also, a panel will discuss education reform. Jackie Norton, President & CEO of the Rodel Foundation will share details.
  • Jackie Norton - President and CEO, Rodel Foundation
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education, reform, arizona, public schools, update,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Rodel Foundation of Arizona is an organization charged with helping create a world-class system of public schools in the state. Earlier this week the Rodel Foundation hosted a forum that included education leaders acting as table hosts to facilitate discussions with business and civic leaders. Those conversations were followed by a panel discussion on education reform. I spoke with Jackie Norton, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation about the program. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Jackie Norton: It's a pleasure to be here, Ted, thanks.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about, this was a big discussion, a lot of folks here on Tuesday. What was it designed to accomplish?

Jackie Norton: A lot of things. First and foremost it was designed to be different, not just for the sake of being different, but on our invitation we were rather irreverent and said no more blah, blah, blah. We recognized that everyone in that room had been to so many convenings, conversations about education. There's plenty of talk, not enough action. Part of it was to really drive towards action. But equally important and somewhat novel was to bring intentionally opposing points of view. We think there's great danger in the echo chamber. People go to conversations. They have listened to news, they can pick what they want to hear. People tend to hear only what they agree with. That doesn't drive compromise, that doesn't give us any traction. We intentionally picked a broad spectrum of people who would have different points of view. We wanted the audience to hear that, not to necessarily agree or disagree but to realize that on these arguments there will not be a uniform sense of what is the right thing, but we still have to make progress.

Ted Simons: Did you think progress was made? First, talk about the folks that attended, talk about the folks on the panel, and what you heard.

Jackie Norton: Well, it was a unique convening. And part of our approach to this was to get a stellar panel hosted by you. And I don't mean to just flatter you. But your ability to facilitate that conversation with six people who we knew would disagree with each other, was part of the draw. Then we recruited 44 what we call table hosts. These were people who have a following in their own right. They represented the education sector, the business sector, the philanthropic sector and the government sector. We wanted the panel to be diverse and each table to be diverse. We paired up table hosts with different backgrounds, who could bring out interesting points of view. Then at each table the guests were, again, a cross sector. We were lucky to have as many people willing to come as we did. At every table you would have an interesting mix. A young person with children just starting school, a grandparent perhaps, someone who spent their life in education, somebody who didn't know where their neighborhood school was. We think that led and our audience feedback was that it was fun. It wasn't an intentional goal. But if you can have fun while airing divergent views, all the better.

Ted Simons: Talk about recurring themes, talk about any solutions or compromises you saw forged or at least got people thinking about as they left the discussion.

Jackie Norton: Again, based on the feedback we've gotten so far, people thought it was a refreshing way to address this. What the next steps are are always the big question. We are not so immodest to think that we can lead a solution to all that ails Arizona's education system. But we do think getting that diverse group of people, all of whom are key to solutions, to be willing to share their views and for an audience to accept all of those different views, how we turn that into progress is yet to be determined. We didn't have an outcome when we started this. If you convene around an outcome, by definition you limit the debate. We didn't want to do that.

Ted Simons: I mentioned recurring themes because I noticed that teachers, all aspects of teachers, who they are, how they become teachers, should others become teachers, how they are compensated, how they are considered in society, took up a major part of the early discussion. Surprise you at all?

Jackie Norton: No, but I was very happy to hear that. At the end of the day, as I've looked at the research and writing and controversy around education, the one thing everyone tends to agree on, whether you're a fan of charter schools, district schools, whether you're working in poverty districts or affluent districts, no matter what your point of view. Whether you're a home-schooled, everyone agrees the key to students' success is in large part in the hands of a teacher. I liked seeing that coalescence around teaching. What that means has yet to be determined. That didn't surprise me, but I was happy that it surfaced and we got the range of views on how do we improve teachers. As you heard, not everyone said it was just pay them more.

Ted Simons: Right. We did have a lot of ideas, a lot of suggestions, a lot of conversation talking points. How do you want to see some of these ideas? And perhaps a solution or two, facilitated? I know one panelist said this is all great, but lawmakers, you gotta pay attention, I think she said. You have an attention problem here.

Jackie Norton: Right.

Ted Simons: This was a great forum a great discussion, great conversation. But again, how do you make the discussion turn into action?

Jackie Norton: Well, we won't do it single-handedly. What I think we will do is really think through what should the focus be. Should it be about focusing on better teachers and more of them because certainly the Rodel Foundation can't do everything and no foundation or program can. Prioritizing what is the most important thing to focus on, what will have the broadest reach, is probably where we will start. Then of course our first step will be, who are the logical partners? Who's willing to work on this with us? And then from there perhaps try and build a model around that where we get all -- you know, the number of organizations, groups, businesses who are working on teacher improvement and teacher quality, we haven't even begun to identify. If we got all of those people really coalescing, it would be powerful.

Ted Simons: I want to ask you a question I asked the panels, the closing question. What does Arizona need to be considered an education leader, so people all around the country go, Arizona? Yes, they have good schools. They concentrate on education. What does the state need?

Jackie Norton: I think a good start would be part of what we did this morning, where you showed that the community collectively really is concerned about this. I was so gratified. Massachusetts came up as an example of success. And Dean Kerner said he spent time in Massachusetts, and yes, they do well. But you would never get a group like in this Massachusetts, a broad cross-section of the community to show up and agree this is an important issue. Not only that it's important but they are willing to work on it. I think the first step for Arizona is to look at what we have going for us. And that is a group of concerned citizens who are willing to work on this.

Ted Simons: All right. Well, I thought it was a very encouraging event and certainly an enlightening discussion. Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of it and congratulations.

Jackie Norton: Thank you, Ted.