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Jazz St. Louis and national organization collaborate to showcase jazz in public schools

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Terence Blanchard performs for students at UMSL during a Jazz St. Louis educational event. In a similar effort, the organization is working with Jazz at Lincoln Center to bring jazz to St. Louis area high schools.

Jazz St. Louis and leading national institution Jazz at Lincoln Center are again joining forces to show area students how a treasured musical art continues to evolve.

The organizations will bring nationally recognized musicians into schools to give high school students an up-close view of jazz, a music rich in tradition that relies heavily on improvisation. Musicians also will speak on the role jazz musicians played during the music’s heyday a few generations ago and to the continuing importance of jazz in the 21st century.

“We’re wanting to make sure that the younger generation is aware of the music and knows about the connection that jazz music has to American culture and American history and the development of American culture,” said Phil Dunlap, director of education for Jazz St. Louis.

Last year, five St. Louis area schools participated in the program. This year, Dunlap hopes to double the number of participating schools. The program specifically targets schools in disadvantaged areas.

“Some of our, I’d say, the best schools that we work with are also the most needy,” he said.  “And those are a lot of schools up in Riverview Gardens, up in Normandy, Ferguson, Florissant — where we have a great network of teachers.”

The program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation is modeled on famed jazz composer Leonard Bernstein’s “Young People's Concerts” concerts.  In 1992, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, managing and artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center, resurrected the concept, and the program became an outreach effort in 2012.

Todd Stoll, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s vice president of education, said working with a strong local jazz organization is a perfect partnership.

“Jazz St. Louis is sort of like our little brother,” said Stoll, who helped spearhead the effort. 

He said the program has three aims:  explore how jazz functions as a metaphor for democracy, develop participating students' understanding of jazz’s role in the history of St. Louis, and highlight the overlap between jazz and social justice movements.

That rich history includes jazz greats like trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Oliver Lake, both from the St. Louis area.

Stoll said the educational program also highlights the economic disparity that affects communities of color. It aims to inspire draw attention to the way black and Latino musicians have definitively shaped U.S. culture.

“It’s an opportunity to take it back to that community and say, 'this is your birthright, this is part of the triumph of America, this the American mythology,'” he said.

The number and names of participating schools and many program details are still being worked out between the institutions.  Those details will likely be made public later this week.  

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