Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard's closing Jazz Fest set to include 2 students

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When four-time Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard closes the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, accompanying him Sunday will be two young artists hoping to glean a bit of insider information from a veteran performer who's allowing them a rare glimpse of what their lives could look like.

Geoffrey Saunders, who plays the upright bass, and pianist Tal Cohen are students at the Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, where Blanchard has taught for the past three years.

"We've been really lucky to work with Terence," said Saunders, 27, of Hartford, Connecticut, who is pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts.

Saunders and Cohen also participate in GRAMMY U, a national program sponsored through the educational arm of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Blanchard serves on its advisory council.

Saunders said the Frost School and its GRAMMY U connection provided a rare chance to study one-on-one with Blanchard through private lessons and in workshops.

"He's one of my idols," Cohen said of Blanchard, an arranger and composer whose work includes more than 40 film scores.

Cohen, a native of Israel, moved to Australia when he was about 10 years old and is pursuing a master's of music degree in jazz performance. At 26, he said he considered himself fortunate to be invited to play with Blanchard at Jazz Fest, which draws fans from around the world.

Both will play along with Blanchard's band at a private performance Blanchard holds annually at his home in New Orleans.

Blanchard said giving Saunders and Cohen a peek into his life ultimately will help them prepare for their futures.

"Hopefully, they'll get a chance to see what I'm talking about every day in class," he said. "The immediacy of it all, to take an idea and develop it on the spot, to learn about being in the moment and understand why they need to practice and make sure they have the skills to stick with professional musicians."

Saunders called it a significant learning experience.

"It's a chance for us to hang out and see the inner workings of a band, how a real professional band goes about their daily business at a festival," Saunders said.

Blanchard said he got involved with teaching to help young people gain a sense of how the music industry works.

"At some point, I was seeing that no one was there to tell them some things," he said.

At Frost, he said, there's a multilayer approach to music education covering composition and performance but also delving into understanding how to market music, including recording and engineering processes.

Jodie Blum, executive director of GRAMMY U, said Blanchard is a great educational advocate and proponent for the program.

"We're glad to be a part of building the next generation of industry leaders and musicians," Blum said.

GRAMMY U also partners with LSU, Tulane, Loyola, Dillard, the University of New Orleans and Delgado Community College, all in Louisiana.

"These students are getting some pretty amazing opportunities," Blum said. "This is a once in a lifetime experience and we're proud to showcase the educational priorities that the academy has."