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'Rent Party Jazz' With Questlove Raises $5K for Morningside

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Morningside Community School — with some star-studded help — was able raise a sizable amount of money through the power of music.
The school raised about $5,000 to benefit their students through a virtual jazz party on Monday hosted by five-time Grammy Award-winning musician Questlove, who is the frontman for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon's" in-house band The Roots.  
"It kind of fell into our laps," fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Nicholson said. "With a lot of planning on the lesson end of it, but a little bit of luck with how it came to be."
The event titled "Rent Party Jazz" was inspired by the children's book of the same name by author William Miller about New Orleans in the 1930s. "Rent Party Jazz" is required reading in Morningside's curriculum, as it deals with issues such as poverty, racial inequalities, and eviction.
Unfortunately, these are issues that a number of Morningside students are familiar with.
Nicholson and fellow teacher Emily Marcella said the children were in disbelief when they announced that Questlove would be hosting the event.
The elementary school uses collaborative planning, meaning that all of the teachers in the grade level worked together to plan "Rent Party Jazz" in conjunction with other school officials. The school was connected with Questlove by a Morningside staff member who had a mutual connection.
Originally, the school had just asked Questlove if he could make a short pre-recorded video about jazz music for the kids, as he is also a music historian. They were shocked when the artist answered and said he wanted to donate his time to put on the jazz party.
"We wanted to commend [the students'] hard work," Marcella said. "so we reached out to Questlove just to see if he would be like 'great job!' and he came up with this whole idea for us."
"Rent Party Jazz" included over an hour of jazz music mixed with Questlove's modern DJ style. During breaks, the artist would say things about Morningside School and a QR code that linked donors to the Morningside PTO's Venmo.
Nicholson said students were commenting on the live chat during the jazz party, saying hello to their teachers and posting dancing emojis.
"It was a really interesting way to get our kids into the music because it still had those traditional jazz roots but it had a little bit of modern flair to it that really got them invested in the music," Nicholson said.
Morningside pupils studied "Rent Party Jazz" through the lens of two main characters: Sonny Comeaux and Smiling Jack. Smiling Jack is a famous jazz musician who by chance meets Sonny and throws a jazz party to help him and his mother from being evicted.  
Nicholson said her students were able to make connections between the book and real life.
"It's cool because the kids kind of made the connection that Questlove was like Smiling Jack for us," she said. "Because it was just by chance that we connected with this famous musician who then threw us this jazz party which then helped us."
One student reported that this whole experience made him find meaning in a poster on his wall that says "music is the solution to all problems." The youngster said music solved Sonny and his mother's problem of being evicted and also brought Questlove to the Morningside community to raise all of this money, so music must solve any problem.
Nicholson and Marcella said the school hasn't decided what the fundraiser money will specifically go toward because of the pandemic limiting options.  They do know that it will benefit the students and will provide a positive impact on them.
"Whatever we do end up doing with the money, we want them kind of benefit from the experience of what it can bring to them," Nicholson said. "We really want to include them on what that decision is going to look like."
Morningside continues to accept donations through the QR code and by mail-in checks. The school suspects that after the "Rent Party Jazz" event is re-run they will receive more donations.
Monday was an exciting day for Morningside students, as they also received gifts from Berkshire Dream Center earlier in the day. 
For about five years, the Berkshire Dream Center has been providing each child at the school with a gift at Christmas. This year, Morningside staff created an outdoor pickup system for the presents complete with decorations, snowmen, and Santa.
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Methuselah Loses License for Two Days

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A bar and restaurant owned by a city councilor had its license suspended for two days for violating state COVID-19 guidelines.

On Monday, the Licensing Board voted to suspend Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen's liquor license for Methuselah Bar and Lounge, scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday, after a hearing for three alleged pandemic violation complaints that included pictures and anonymous testimony.

Because of the anonymous nature of the evidence submitted, the board weighed in on the fact that this is not Cohen's first time in front of the Licensing Board, as Methuselah faced a five-day liquor license suspension in 2018.

"I feel like in light of what the history is, I don't think we can just pretend that there's no history,"  Chairman Thomas Campoli said, concluding with the other board members that this case had to be handled differently than if it was a first violation.

On Jan. 15, the board held a hearing for two of the violations occurring on Aug. 22 and Dec. 11. It was decided to continue the hearing for the third violation and voting until Monday, Jan. 25.

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