If you ask Shenole Latimer about the new East End Arts Spanish-language website, his eyes light up and he flashes an ear-to-ear smile.
Mr. Latimer, 40, is a prominent jazz musician and saxophone player who has also taught music lessons for more than 20 years. He became EEA’s new education director in July and helped develop the new website, eastendarts.org/esp, which aims to reach local Latinos who might not be aware of the downtown Riverhead music and art learning facility.
“It’s not so much the message that’s the problem,” Mr. Latimer said. “It’s how to get the message to the people.”
Mr. Latimer, whose mother is black and father is Puerto Rican, grew up in South Huntington with his mother and learned to play the organ at age 3. Growing up in a single-parent household wasn’t easy, he said, and the family struggled with finances.
“I learned how to play the saxophone when I was 9 through public school lessons because we couldn’t afford for me to have actual lessons,” Mr. Latimer said. “Music is pretty strong in my family. My mother was a left-handed violinist and I have cousins who performed with Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder.”
Over the years, Mr. Latimer has played in groups and had a successful solo career. He later started a jazz music education program. Since joining EEA, Mr. Latimer says he’s excited about the fall semester and about working with Nico Olarte-Hayes, who’s running this year’s music masters program for young people ages 14 to 18.
We sat down with Mr. Latimer at his downtown office to discuss his new role. Here are some excerpts.
Q: How did you become a musician?
A: There’s a lot of music in the family, but that’s not what I went to school for. I went to Stony Brook University and initially studied marine biology. I was going to specialize in whales. Then a series of events occurred that pointed me to music again. I was taking diving lessons in Long Island Sound and the dive instructor said, jokingly, “Hey, everybody! Get ready and don’t forget when you get down there you’re part of the food chain, too!” I thought about that and decided to re-evaluate things. Then I met Todd Coolman, a jazz professor who totally changed my view of how music could be pursued as a living. I stayed with marine biology because it was something that I loved, but music eventually took over.
Q: You primarily play the alto saxophone. Why that instrument?
A: I wish there was a deep story about why I play the saxophone. All it boils down to is, when I was young, I liked that there were a lot of buttons on it and it was shiny. I thought to myself, “That thing looks cool! I gotta play that.” Then, of course, I fell in love with the sound of it.
Q: In 2002, you started a music education program called ‘What’s All That Jazz About’ and toured with it across the country. Why did you want to move toward education?
A: During the course of my career as a musician, I self-produced a lot of concerts, including at the Vail-Leavitt. It taught me how to get corporate sponsors, because that’s how I was able to afford the venues. You can never rely on ticket sales. Once the economy tanked in 2008, I had to transform what I did. I had to move from concerts, because it wasn’t paying anymore, to doing more educational programing. I saw the challenge of jazz performers bringing in an audience. It occurred to me that if people understood jazz more, maybe they’d come and see the shows. I decided to come up with a way to teach them what it was they were listening to so that they could enjoy it more and appreciate it. I figured that would help put more bodies in the seats.
Q: How did you end up at East End Arts?
A: It was really just a collision of events that happened to gel. On one hand, I was starting to realize the traveling was wearing me out and I needed to start working smarter, not harder. My mind was opened to other opportunities. In fact, I was actually considering becoming an app developer. But then on this last tour I did back in June of this year, Pat Snyder, the executive director, emailed me. We first met before Winterfest started at the Southampton Cultural Center during an event [East End Arts cosponsored] about artists and marketing. I was invited to be one of the panelists because they saw I was very good at marketing myself. Her email simply said, “Hey Shenole, Can we meet? I’d like to fi nd a way to get you into the organization.” I said, “Sure.” Then three days later, she sent another email saying, “The position of education director just opened up. I’d like you to interview for the job.” I was like, “Oh. OK. Do you still need me to meet you about the other thing?” [Laughs.] I said to myself, “I have to take this opportunity. I have to go for it.”
Q: What are your goals as EEA’s education director?
A: In addition to outreach, I really want to spearhead a movement of artists learning how to make a living with their art. Or how to better understand the business end of things. Also, we are looking to provide services where we’re needed. For example, with school budgets getting cut, what goes first? Arts and music. We also see a gap in aftercare. We’ve been putting together the basis of an aftercare program we hope to launch in January. With aftercare, its usually like babysitting with homework. We want to offer an experience with the arts, too. We want every day to be a new experience. One day it will be a music experience, but then the next day will be a visual arts experience. We want to keep the kids mentally stimulated.