The last few months have found me working as a teaching artist for the Thelonious Monk Institute’s “Jazz in the Classroom” program. I’ve had the pleasure of working with band teachers and student combos at least six different schools around the Los Angeles area. My “home” school, though, has been Foshay Learning Center near Western Ave and 37th St in South Los Angeles. Though a self-professed California Distinguished School, my peregrinations though LA’s school districts has shown me that the distribution of resources in LA is wildly uneven. And Foshay is a shining example of teachers and administration squeezing as much as possible for their students out of less than many have to work with.
That being said, I was so pleased to work with an eight-piece combo at Foshay for the last few months, introducing them to jazz history, lingo, theory and practices. Most of these 7th and 8th graders had little to no exposure to jazz music before our rehearsals, but now they’re confidently beginning to play on some classic standard tunes.
But more than that, I’ve seen them have fun and grow in their confidence on their instruments, while being challenged to develop a voice in a group. The Monk Institute’s “Jazz in the Classroom” isn’t just teaching jazz - it’s introducing young people to a way of expressing themselves; encouraging them to explore history, their agency, and using music as a way to experiment with how to communicate and represent themselves. These kids have been awesome and I’m super thankful to have had the opportunity to work with them.