South Orange teen jazz musician earns large scholarship

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Village resident Cosimo Fabrizio grew up in a multicultural home with an immigrant mother from Grenada and a father of Italian descent, and music served as the bridge between these two “very, very, very different” cultures, eventually leading him to be named a 2018 Davidson Fellow, he said.

The Davidson Institute awards scholarships to fellows for the completion of a significant piece of work. The fellows, who are all 18 and younger, can apply in a variety of disciplines. For Fabrizio, who is 18, music has been a constant discipline and companion in his life.

The recent Newark Academy graduate picked up the guitar in second grade. Since then, he has taken classes at Juilliard, performed at Lincoln Center and played alongside jazz composer and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, an experience for which he missed his junior prom.

Yet, Fabrizio’s application essay, “21st Century Jazz — The Search for Authenticity,” didn’t focus on his exciting musical experiences, but rather on how jazz education can be restructured “so that it preserves the integrity of the art form,” saying that some school districts do not “take into account like what is the historical significance of this music, like who else is involved in this art form and then why is it still like important today,” he said of the school system.

“If we dilute the meaning of something so much that it truly is just this one narrative, is that better than them not knowing about it,” Fabrizio continued, referring to Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie’s single-story theory, in which she argues that hearing only one story on any topic leads to a critical misunderstanding of that topic because it ignores the many facets that can be brought into a discussion by stories from different people of different backgrounds. “That was kind of the question I raised about jazz.”

It was this difficult conversation tackled in his thesis that impressed the Davidson Fellowship judges and made Fabrizio one of 20 scholarship recipients from nearly 400 applicants.

“His ideas flow naturally and come from his heart and are very naturally ‘Authentic,’ which is what his thesis is all about,” judges noted in their comments, which were provided to the News-Record by program director Tacie Moessner. “It is rare to find an 18-year-old high school senior that has developed the sophistication and performance abilities that Cosimo has in the jazz world.”

The judges thought Fabrizio had “a sensitivity and confidence in his performance that was extraordinary for someone so young,” Moessner said.

The scholarship award of $25,000 is “100 percent going to college,” Fabrizio said.

“The proudest part of this being able to look my parents in the eye after 18 years of nurturing me and doing everything they could to sacrifice for me and being able to take $25,000 off of their plate,” he said.

Fabrizio has enrolled in Cornell University this fall, where he plans to study economics and government.

While his path of study seems unrelated to his passion for music and jazz, Fabrizio says the two fields are actually similar and jazz has inspired him to pursue a career in politics.

“Jazz is an inherently democratic art form. The music compels us to embrace the humanity of all types of people, which in turn, creates communities centered upon the notion of collaboration,” he said. “Between my mentorship with Wynton Marsalis and my experiences in the larger jazz community, I have become very interested in realizing and upholding the intersection of art and politics. This interest leads me to seek a broader understanding of the relationship between culture and government.”

Fabrizio is still set on enjoying jazz recreationally. He has already joined the jazz band at Cornell and will be continuing his summer job remotely as an assistant in brand, sales and marketing for Jazz at Lincoln Center.