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December 3, 2012

Valdosta High student studies music in Cuba

VALDOSTA —  It may have been Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects that inspired a Valdosta High Marchin’ Cats section leader to study trombone and return to New Orleans each summer for jazz camp, but ultimately it was his skill that awarded him a chance to learn music in Cuba last month.

Kreshon McDowell’s grandmother, Sandra McDowell, said Hurricane Katrina claimed all of the family’s possessions in New Orleans and forced them to move back into an old home in Valdosta. She said it was around this time that Kreshon, now 19, began studying trombone at Valdosta Middle School in 2006.

“My husband retired from Moody Air Force Base, so we moved back into our old home here after Katrina,” said Mrs. McDowell. “I think music, and specifically the trombone, became both a coping mechanism and a way for Kreshon to express himself.”

With roughly a year of familiarity with his new instrument, Mrs. McDowell said Kreshon began attending the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Jazz Camp in New Orleans each summer. And for the past five years, he’s returned to the three-week camp to work under the tutelage of jazz greats like nine-time Grammy winner Wynton Marsalis and the legendary George Duke.

“I love music because it's a universal language,” said Kreshon. “People of all races can sit down and enjoy it together, and there's always room for creativity in it.”

Near the end of last October, Kreshon’s family received a letter notifying them that the young trombonist had been hand-selected from the jazz camp to travel in a small group to Cuba the following month. Notice was short, but its tone suggested that they were very much aware of Kreshon’s abilities as an excerpt reads:

“Our students will learn two Cuban tunes while in Cuba. We have yet to hear and receive those arrangements As we are aware, this is jazz. It marches to a different beat. I am confident it will all work out.”

The group left for the Havana affair on Monday, Nov. 19, and returned the following Sunday. The music students toured a circuit of Cuban schools and learned theories from Cuban professors, said Mrs. McDowell who joined the students in the excursion.

“The trip exposed the U.S. students to samba and other Cuban music genres, and it gave the Cuban students exposure to jazz and blues,” said Mrs. McDowell. “It was such a nice time. Kreshon took a class with Alvarao Collado, one of Cuba's most famous trombone players.”

Though it lasted a day short of a week, Kreshon said the trip has had a profound effect on him.

“The trip has shown me that there are friends out there that we've never met,” said Kreshon. “We all connect in many ways, no matter what language we speak. Because of the trip, I appreciate what I have in the U.S. a lot more than before.”

While Kreshon wraps up his time at Valdosta High School, his next move is already plotted out. He said he intends to further his education by studying jazz performance at Valdosta State University.

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