Current and Former Edna Brewer Middle School Musicians Make Guest Appearance in New Pixar/Disney Movie, Soul
Oakland, CA – Many musicians dream of performing on the biggest stages possible, and it doesn’t get much bigger than a feature-length Disney movie. A group of current and former Edna Brewer Middle School musicians, and one who graduated from Oakland Tech, can now put on their resumes that they have appeared in an animated Disney movie, in part due to the close proximity of Pixar headquarters in Emeryville. They appear in the just released movie, Soul, which stars Jaime Foxx as a middle school band teacher.
“A group from Edna Brewer was playing at Yoshi’s music venue in Oakland a few years back, and a producer from Pixar, who was dining at the restaurant, heard the band,” said Pitt-Smith. “Since they were already thinking of having middle school musicians in the movie, they decided to hire the Edna Brewer musicians. The students were paid, they had to sign contracts, it was quite the thing in March of 2019.”
In the recording, Pitt-Smith conducted the 17 musicians, who were all his students except for one he called a trumpet “ringer,” Giovanni Garcia, who was then a senior at Oakland Tech. They played at Skywalker Sound in Marin as Pixar recorded the music, and caught close up video of them playing to use as a guide as they illustrated accurate representations of musicians in the animation. In the scene in which they are featured, Pixar asked the students to play like beginning middle school music students. “It’s made me happy to know that the world is going to listen to our talent. It also makes me want to push myself even harder,” said Brewer 8th grader, Arianna Cortez, who plays the violin.
Jamie Foxx stars alongside Tina Fey and Angela Bassett, with Jon Batiste from CBS’ The Late Show providing much of the music. Foxx’s character, Joe Gardner, has dreams of playing a major gig of his own. Pitt-Smith says the movie is a celebration of jazz, of middle school music, and of musicians – and people in general – finding their own improvisational sound and voice in life.
“The experience of participating in Soul made me feel something I hadn’t felt since before quarantine,” said Brewer 8th grader, Declan Ewbank, who plays the trumpet. “I felt a thrill finding out I had some musical purpose again, and it helped me remember why I started playing music in the first place. It’s the audience, being able to express my emotions, and showing how I feel in a way words can’t describe.”
In the students’ scene, they play a jazz standard called Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, written by Mercer Ellington. One of the students does something different from her peers, finding her improvisational sound, and her classmates give her a hard time. After watching the scene, Pitt-Smith said he and other OUSD music teachers agreed, ”that sounds exactly like my classes.”
“As a musician, this experience has helped me realize hard work pays off, that if you put in the time, only greatness will come out of it,” said Nyla Weaver, former Brewer alto saxophone player who is now at Oakland Tech.
“This experience has helped me realize how talented I am, and how blessed I am to even be receiving an opportunity like this,” said former Brewer drummer, Ben Ard, who is now at Oakland Tech.
When the movie premiered on Disney+, it had a premiere special featuring the filmmakers, its stars and the current Brewer band with Pitt-Smith conducting. The YouTube premier is below, and the band appears at 2:58. At 4:15, Jamie Foxx speaks about being the first African American lead in a Pixar/Disney movie, and then has a surprise for Edna Brewer Middle School.
Pitt-Smith said the donation is for $10,000 worth of instruments, and that he wants it all to go to other OUSD schools that have greater needs than Brewer.
Pitt-Smith said he is thrilled by his students’ involvement and the attention it’s bringing to OUSD’s musicians. “I’m really honored to be a part of this history-making movie, with its main character, the first Black lead character in a Pixar-Disney movie. It celebrates music education and celebrates jazz. I love that Pixar chose to have middle school students play themselves, and I couldn’t be happier for our current and former Brewer musicians who got to take part. I’m over the moon excited to be a part of it.”
The San Francisco Chronicle did an article about Brewer’s involvement in the movie, and you can find it here. The students who are no longer at Edna Brewer Middle School are now at Oakland Tech, Oakland High, Bishop O’Dowd, and one is at U.C. Berkeley.
About the Oakland Unified School District
In California’s most diverse city, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is dedicated to creating a learning environment where “Every Student Thrives!” More than half of our students speak a non-English language at home. And each of our 81 schools is staffed with talented individuals uniting around a common set of values: Students First, Equity, Excellence, Integrity, Cultural Responsiveness and Joy. We are committed to preparing all students for college, career and community success.
To learn more about OUSD’s Full Service Community District focused on academic achievement while serving the whole child in safe schools, please visit OUSD.org and follow us @OUSDnews.
Post based on press release from Oakland Unified School District to Zennie62Media.
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