Jul 31, 2012 - Oklahoma Jazz Ambassadors Headed To Israel

Oklahoma Jazz Ambassadors Headed To Israel

Young Artists Competition Winners Featured At Jazz Depot                               

            Young Tulsa jazz pianists Barron Ryan and Steven Schrag are about to become international artists. Before that happens, they’ll be playing an Aug. 5 show together at the Jazz Depot, with Schrag opening for Ryan. It’s a job they’re both looking forward to.

            “Of course, I’ve heard Barron play,” says Schrag, “but we have never played a gig together. Pianists don’t often get to play with other pianists.”

            Ryan and Schrag are the latest two winners of the Young Artists Piano Competition, sponsored by the Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OKIE) and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Schrag just won this year’s event, while Ryan was the 2011 champion. Both will later be touring for ten days in Israel, where they’ll play a series of dates as cultural ambassadors for Oklahoma. As is the case with Sunday’s show, however, they won’t be performing together.

            “We’ll be playing separately in Israel; I believe we’re going over at different times,” notes Schrag. “Barron’s going this fall, and my trip is being scheduled yet.”

            As executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, former  Drew Diamond also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Israeli Exchange. OKIE, he explains, “is a statewide collaboration, initiated by the Jewish community – particularly the Jewish Federation here in Tulsa, and in Oklahoma City. Our mission is to work on both commercial, business exchanges and artistic, cultural exchanges.

            “We’ve been doing agricultural and educational exchanges over the past ten years. When we connect with commerce, we connect with culture, and vice versa -- that’s how programs like the Young Artists Competition come about. The Jewish Federation of Tulsa has been involved in numerous collaborative efforts with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of  Fame. Their innovation, energy and commitment to education make them a great partner.”

            The annual contest is open to pianists between the ages of 21 and 28 who are either currently attending or have been graduated from an Oklahoma college, university, or community college. Before this year, the Young Artists Competition was for classical musicians, and Barron Ryan won the 2011 edition as a classical pianist. He is, however, well known by area audiences for his facility with and affinity for jazz music.

            The competition changed from the classical to the jazz genre after the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame became a sponsor.

            “This collaboration grew out of our involvement and participation in different cultural activities that showcase Oklahoma’s incredible musicians.” says Jason McIntosh, the Jazz Hall of Fame’s CEO. “This opportunity for these young Oklahoma musicians to represent our state through the performance of America’s classical music: Jazz strengthens our bonds with Israel’s vibrant culture. Previously, we have enjoyed hosting Israeli musicians and we know they will enjoy Steven and Barron as well. Creating unity through music is what we are all about. How often do you get to tour and play half way around the world at such a young age?”

            Schrag agrees. “It’s a chance to really improve my playing, to get exposed to different styles, different musicians, and different cultural idioms. It’s a real opportunity to expand horizons.

            “You know,” he adds, “there are tons of phenomenal jazzers coming out of Israel. There’s an Israeli jazz wave going on.”

            Before he gets the chance to check that wave out for himself, however, there’s the upcoming concert.

            “I’ll be doing a few solo pieces to open up the set for Barron,” says Schrag, “and one of the things I want to play is `Blue Skies.’ It’s one that not a lot of young players learn nowadays, but I was really inspired by a version done by a contemporary jazz pianist named Bill Charlap. He does a really tasty version of that tune.”

            Visitors to the Jazz Depot know Schrag as an oft-featured pianist, working with jazz ensembles at the Wednesday Jazzwich noon concerts and the Tuesday night jam sessions, in addition to playing with many artists on the Sunday series shows. It might surprise them to know that the recent college graduate isn’t at all sure about making a living with his music.

            “It’s interesting,” he says. “Although I’ve definitely thought about it a lot, I’ve never planned for music to be my career. My plans are to go into academia, to go to graduate school in communications. But playing has turned out to be a great way for me to stay in Tulsa and meet lots of cool people. So I’ll pursue my music while I’m here, and then hope to grad school in 2013.”                    

            Schrag is set to open the concert Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. 


            The show is part of the Jazz Hall’s 2012 Summer Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.


                                                                     - 0 -