MOSCOW, Idaho -- Alan Durst believes everyone begins to form his or her musical tastes at a young age.
Durst, a nationally recognized saxophonist from California, participated in the Jazz in the Schools program that's part of this week's Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho. He and keyboardist Erik Bowen of Lewiston and bassist Troy Robey of Moscow played for students Tuesday at Palouse Elementary School and West Park Elementary School in Moscow.
Other musicians participating in the Jazz Festival visited schools across the Palouse and Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and will do so again today, performing for children and teaching them a little about what they do.
At West Park, Durst said he enjoys introducing young children to jazz music because they are enthusiastic and are just beginning to develop their musical preferences.
"With the current media, it's almost impossible to get access to music that's not corporate mainstream," he said.
The three musicians began playing "Confirmation" by Charlie Parker, and the children's heads began bobbing as they slightly bounced their seated bodies up and down on the gymnasium floor. Engrossed in the music, some of them even used their fingers and hands to mimic the way Durst, Bowen and Robey played their instruments.
When the song was over, Durst asked the children what kind of music they just heard.
Country-western? Just a few hands went up. Classical? A few more. Rap? A couple students smiled as they dared to raise their hands.
But when Durst asked if it was jazz, nearly all the children's hands shot high into the air.
Durst explained how jazz music includes melodies, harmonies and rhythm, and he stressed the importance of improvisation in the genre.
"Definitely a big part of improvisation is spontaneous, or what we call 'making it up,' " he said.
"I haven't seen Erik or Troy in a year," he said, but the three were able to pick up their instruments and start playing Tuesday because they understand the different parts of music.
Durst told the children that listeners of live jazz music should applaud individual performers when they play solos within songs. The men played a song in which each had a solo, and the students clapped enthusiastically after each one.
The musicians also gave the students a lesson about the differences between major and minor keys using the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as an example. They first played the song in an upbeat, major key, and the children sang along.
Then Durst planted an image in the students' minds to demonstrate minor key.
"Let's say Mary's walking down Third Street," he said. "She has her lamb on a leash, but she drops it. Uh oh. The lamb runs off."
The men began playing the song in a sad, slower fashion.
Then, Durst said, Mary found her lamb, and the music picked up again to the children's delight.
Durst, Bowen and Robey played a couple more songs and answered questions from the curious minds in attendance.
In response to a question about why he likes to play jazz music, Robey compared it to a really fun recess session.
"You know when you're out with your friends on the playground, just having a blast?" he asked. "You don't know what time it is, what day it is. You don't have a care in the world other than the music you're playing right then and there."
Holly Bowen can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail to hbowendnews.com. Follow her on Twitter: DailyNewsHolly
To see more of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dnews.com.
(c) 2011, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.