You can't start too early nurturing a child's appreciation of music, but isn't five years old a little young for jazz? Not according to James Greening, a leading Australian jazz musician.
Greening and his band, The World According to James, play a wide range of jazz styles and are just as accustomed to performing in schools as in clubs or concert halls. Greening doubles on the trombone and pocket trumpet, Steve Elphick plays double bass, Matt Keegan plays saxophones and Toby Hall drums and percussion.
Greening says he worked for about 20 years with different bands under the "music in schools" programmes organised by Musica Viva, an Australian non-profit organisation for the performing arts.
For the past seven years, he has performed for young listeners in The World According to James, and this Sunday he will bring his show cum jazz appreciation class for five- to 14-year-olds to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Greening and his band will also conduct classes in schools in the next few days.
"We play a wide range of music and, without exception, the children are blown away," says Greening. "We love to make music and share the fun with everyone. It's really infectious."
He was bitten by the jazz bug during his own school years, and feels fortunate to have had teachers who encouraged him.
"I started playing big band music in my teens and started working club gigs around the age of 17 or 18. I could read notes, and my ears were pretty good, so I had the chance to start improvising in these groups.
"As I continued to perform, I met more people who inspired me to continue my growth," he says.
Greening's passion for jazz developed alongside his enthusiasm for music education, sharing what he had learned from primary to tertiary level. He teaches students personally, in addition to his involvement in projects such as the Musica Viva concerts, and appears in a number of children's television programmes.
A versatile brass player who is adept on instruments ranging from the pocket trumpet to the tuba, Greening is known to younger audiences for mimicing animal sounds, using his instruments, on the Australian television series Play School.
The upcoming performance will cover a lot of ground, from a sonic evocation of a rainforest to tango music, with the aim to entertain and educate.
The musicians will engage as directly as possible with their young audience, teaching them "body percussion" (the simplest forms including stomping and clapping) and encouraging them to get up and dance.
The band also want to help them understand the nature of composition and improvisation through collaborative participation in developing new pieces.
"I don't wish to create a divide between the musicians and the audience, so it's two types of dialogue: with words and music," says Greening.
"Music is… essential for the happiness of humanity. People need to be able to relate to music they hear, and for this to happen, musicians need to have a desire to be understood and share the joy of the music and the music-making process.
"It's possible to express complex ideas to people who wish to understand. The trick is to bring people along for the ride. Children love to come along for the ride."