PDT Staff Writer
Scioto County music educator and musician Gary Billups is in his element when he teaches students in China about jazz improvisation.
Billups was speaking from Hong Kong at 12 midnight, exactly 12 hours ahead of our locally observed Eastern Standard Time. He related how a former student, Rob Taylor, who has since died, was the one who brought him to Hong Kong the first time several years ago, and how both Taylor and the experience of teaching and performing in China have had a profound impact on his life.
“I did the workshop two years ago,” Billups said. “And they liked it so well, I went back last November. So this is my third trip over here.”
Billups, who plays saxophone, said he played with the best trio in Asia. Ted Lo, a pianist who is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, a native of China, who performed in Manhattan for 25 years, has played with many other well-known artists, including Astrud Gilberto. The bass player was Mike Carr, from California. Carr toured the United States with Dick Clark, peforming with artists such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Frankie Avalon. Carr now makes his home in Hong Kong. Jack Greminger, of Los Angeles, plays the drums. He played with the legendary Dizzy Gilespie, and has been in Hong Kong for several years as well.
“These guys play in Tokyo all the time, and they go to Australia, and they come back to Hong Kong. They’re a heck of an outfit,” Billups said.
Billups performed with the other musicians on Friday, March 15.
“I’m also doing some workshops for the Hong Kong Institute of Education. I’m also working with two of the combos, as well s a couple of workshops in a couple of the secondary (high) schools,” he said.
What do the students take away from the workshops?
“They learn to improvise,” Billups said. “They all can read music extremely well, but they don’t know how to improvise. That’s basically what I’m doing. Even Shawnee (State University) isn’t doing what I’m doing. You’ve got to go to Ohio State or UC (University of Cincinnati) to do what I’m doing. So I’m teaching improvisation. I teach a scale to every chord. So it’s not only just jazz, it’s pop music too. It could even be rock and roll and country. But those are so simple compared to jazz. So if you teach the jazz, the other stuff will come.”
They also took part in two outdoor student concerts at the college, with the focus on improvisation.
“I’m having a blast,” Billups said. “And I get to teach things that I always wanted to teach, but I really couldn’t around our area. You can’t do improvisation. Everybody wants a marching band - that type of thing - so you really can’t teach the way I wanted to teach. You had to make money. You had a family. So you had to do what you had to do.”
Billups currently lives in Wheelersburg. He attended Wheelersburg High School and graduated in the class of 1961. He is secretary of the American Federation of Musicians of The United States & Canada (Inc).
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.