Conductor/Musician wins local award

Reporter Newspaper Posted: 03/29/2009 01:01:19 AM PDT

Keith Stout, poses with wife Martha. He was honored Saturday by the Vaca Arts Council with the Marianna Pokorny Award.

Most education specialists agree teachers are the most important element in any classroom, so consider what the 20th century's greatest scientist, Albert Einstein, once said about them: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

And it is teachers, especially music teachers, who have so greatly influenced well-known Vacaville musician Keith L. Stout.

In a recent e-mail, he cited a number of them, calling them "inspirations" and "big ingredients" while growing up in Vacaville. From them, as mentors, he learned not only the love of music and key vocabulary -- the circle of fifths, various scales, time signatures, for example -- but he also learned practical life lessons.

"I wanted to let you know," he said, "that Mrs. Pokorny was a wonderful inspiration to all of us teenagers in the school music programs. She encouraged me to participate and get involved in the community arts and was always a great cheerleader to myself" and his music-loving brothers, Ken and Artie.

Stout, a city of Sacramento Asst. Architect for nine years, Trumpeter and founder-conductor of local Alive Music Orchestra, cited Pokorny because Saturday night he held in his hands a small but tangible part of her legacy as the beloved longtime choir director for Vacaville Unified -- the Marianna Pokorny Award.

The top honor bestowed annually by the Vaca Arts Council, it is given to someone in Solano County whom advances the group's mission: to support, participate in,

promote and coordinate the cultural arts. Additionally, the award recognizes someone whose arts activities benefit the city's youth in some way.

To a standing ovation, Stout received the evening's final award at the council's 19th Salute to the Stars gala at the Opera House, a black-tie event that shines a spotlight on people, most of them volunteers, and area businesses involved in the county's visual, performing and lively arts.

In an interview, he sounded modest and surprised, saying, "It's quite an honor. It was very unexpected, especially with the economic times the way they are right now."

Stout got word from arts council president Richard Gideon, a retired visual arts teacher with Vacaville Unified, who e-mailed the news. Unfortunately, it was the same day Stout, 46, who earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental design from the University of California, Davis, learned that he "probably will be laid off" from his job by summertime.

"It was a good time to receive the news," said Stout, one of the prime movers behind the Vacaville Jazz Festival and its spin-off youth jazz camps. "It really lighted up my day."

Sounding upbeat in the face of a likely layoff, he said he has much to be grateful for, especially his wife, Martha, and three children, Amanda, Ally and Keaton. He celebrates his seventh wedding anniversary today.

As the conversation turned to the city's annual jazz festival, in its 10th year, Stout said, "We're diligently trying to keep this (free festival) alive. The focus is being able to provide an opportunity for local people to enjoy the arts, especially from their own musicians in the area."

The festival-sponsored jazz camps, he noted, are ways to preserve the uniquely American musical idiom and pass on its beauty -- and its collaborative and improvisational nature -- to the next generation.

As conductor of Alive Music Orchestra for the past twenty years, Stout has always nurtured local young talent, seeking interns from area high school jazz bands, noting that that Andy Herout, band director at Vacaville High, was once a member.

Making the public aware of the importance of music education in public schools has been a particular passion, especially in the last year, he said, lamenting, "It's a shame we're at this state of challenging economic times. The arts are the first to suffer. I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible."

"The (public school music) programs are going to be cut from the state (budget)," he predicted. "I think it's going to hit Vacaville, Travis and Fairfield. Some of our (jazz festival) programs might have to supplement and help them, with classes and clinics for kids."

No surprise, but the classes and clinics are staffed by adult volunteers, local musicians who give their time and talent, Stout said.

Stout cited a number of teachers and mentors he respects and credits for his success as a musician, among them Jim Tutt, Dick Grokenberger and Gideon.

"He was one of my teachers in junior high school," he said of Gideon. "We all look up to people like Richard Gideon, Don Kidder and others for a sense of reassurance and direction. Their impact on the arts and ideas will be carried through people in our generation, so we can teach the next."

The Vaca Jazz Society is a non-profit, 501(c)3 corporation (ID# 20-0198796) dedicated to developing young musicians, providing family-friendly entertainment and expanding the Jazz culture in Vacaville and the surrounding communities. Donations are fully tax deductible.

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