By Virginia Burroughs Dayton Daily News
Several weeks ago, Dayton’s Serious Young Musicians took the grand prize at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night at Memorial Hall, winning an opportunity to travel to New York City and perform on the famous Apollo stage.
Things aren’t as rosy as they look, however.
Even though the quintet, led by Dayton musician and Edison Elementary School music teacher Tumust Allison , carried home the $1,000 prize and two round-trip plane tickets, it will be spring before they’ll have enough funds to cover transportation, hotel and food costs for the entire group.
The current SYM crew includes 13-year-old MacFarlane Middle School student Clarence Slaughter on tenor sax, Edison’s 10-year-old Tyrone Martin on alto sax, Stivers School for the Arts student 13-year-old Craig Hill on tenor sax and Valerie Elementary School’s 7-year-old drummer Denzel Hollins .
Allison, although his first instrument is tenor sax, rounds out the jazz group on the keyboard. Several other students “wait in the wings” for their chance to perform.
“This is actually the second generation of SYM,” said Allison, who started the group almost seven years ago when he was teaching at Wogaman Elementary School.
“The kids were willing to come in and practice before school, during lunch and after school.”
They would sometimes stay as late as 7 p.m. and, later, were even willing to practice on Saturdays, Allison said.
“They’d let me in the building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I’d have so many kids in the band room, the whole building seemed to be ringing with music,” he said.
`We also worked on character, manners and respect, and I’d encourage them to get good grades.”
Now, he has added yoga to the rehearsal regimen “to focus and center their energy” and he plans to start members on tai chi.
Allison, who played professionally and toured before returning to the Dayton area to teach, was pleased with his young students’ enthusiasm and progress.
However, he was concerned that their only performance was the year-end school concert.
“There just weren’t any other outlets for young performers,” he said.
He spoke with pianist Khalid Moss , who, with Melanie Moore , was doing a tribute to Miles Davis at Roosevelt Center, and Moss let the group play during intermission.
“I had one of my horns bent like Dizzie Gillespie’s for one of the kids to play and we didn’t even have a name yet, but we did three songs and got four standing ovations,” Allison said. “That was the beginning of SYM.”
Since then, Dayton students in the group have played such venues as Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, where they opened for Al Green; Rhine McLin’s Mayor’s Ball; the Roots and Heritage Festival in Lexington, Ky., where they opened for Freddie Jackson; and appearances for the last three years at Buffalo’s annual jazz festival.
The first-generation group played at a festival in New York City several years ago and the performance earned them a spread in Downbeat magazine.
But Allison had to dig deep into his own pockets for that trip and several of the others.
He has applied to incorporate the group and for 501(c) tax status. Then, they’ll start raising funds for the trip and the group’s shot at Amateur Night on the real Apollo stage, which they hope will be in March.
“The Apollo’s Amateur Night hasn’t changed since I lived in Brooklyn and went there as a teen-ager,” said Rose Springer , a retired Dayton schoolteacher.
“People `boo’ if the act isn’t any good and a man still comes out with a broom to sweep the bad acts off the stage. It’s the cheers of the audience that determine the winners.”
Anyone interested in contributing toward the expenses of the SYM’s Apollo trip can contact Allison at …
© Dayton Daily News 2002