All About Education by Rochelle Rice, Education Coordinator
“DC Jazz Festival has programming year ‘round?!” That is the surprised response I often get when I tell people about the educational offerings of DC’s premiere music festival. I feel a little glow of pride as I get to be the first one to tell them about the DC Jazz Festival Education Program and our commitment to provide free concerts, workshops, and master classes to more than 5,000 of DC’s young people year-round. Being relatively new to the DC Jazz Festival Team, I can relate to the sense of excitement and pride one feels when finding out that some of the best music education is being offered right here in our city by one of the finest jazz festivals in our nation!
The DC Jazz Festival Education Program offers programming that spans ages as young as six weeks old all the way up through adulthood. Jazzin’ at Sitar is a year-round weekly instrument training and jazz history session offered in partnership with Sitar Arts Center and taught by bassist and educator, Herman Burney. Recently, one of the Jazzin’ at Sitar student saxophonists joined Mr. Burney and I at the Politics and Arts Jam Session presented by Washington Performing Arts. The three of us performed a couple of tunes, but the highlight of the jam was watching everyone’s jaws drop when they heard this 15-year-old Jazzin’ at Sitar student blow a slammin’ blues solo! I can only imagine what he will sound like in 10 years!
Also under our education umbrella, our Meet the Artist series provides a rare opportunity for audiences to get “up close and personal” with some of the jazz industry’s biggest artists. In October, Grammy-Award winning superstar, Patti Austin, gave a master class and Q&A with the Fine Arts students at Howard University, and on June 19th during DC JazzFest 2016, there will be a pre-performance Meet the Artist with Kamasi Washington.
One of the highlights of working with DC Jazz Festival is the partnerships that we have with many of DC’s best organizations. The Charles Fishman Embassy Series features professional jazz artists hosted in concert at some of the finest Embassies in DC. This year, DC Jazz Festival will be presenting at several embassies including: Portugal, Italy, Spain, France, and Japan.
I am proud to be an ambassador for all of the DC Jazz Festival education programs, but the two programs that are closest to my heart are geared towards DC’s “littlest learners.” Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days is a free two-day event that celebrates the synergy between jazz and visual art and is hosted in collaboration with The Phillips Collection. The family-friendly event features storytelling, an instrument petting zoo, art workshops, and ‘round-the-clock live jazz performances. This year, I will be in our storytelling area presenting DC Jazz Bops!, DC Jazz Festival’s early education class serving children six weeks through five years old. In DC Jazz Bops!, we use the lives and music of Jazz Greats and jazz-inspired books to encourage early music skills, social and behavioral development, and promote school-readiness through activities that establish an early interest in reading and math. After just three months into our year, my DC Jazz Bops! students have learned about rhythm and tempo and explored the music of Louis Armstrong and Tito Puente. Watching these babies and toddlers learn is absolutely amazing! Recently, I was blown away when I overheard and watched a three-year-old student use one of our small drums to show a younger classmate how to play the 3/2 clave rhythm that we use in our “welcome song” to begin each class. The “clave” is a rhythmic pattern often used in Latin music. She explained, “First you play three beats. 1-2-3. Then two beats. 1-2”. She went on to play and speak the rhythm perfectly in demonstration for her friend! On another occasion, I was playing a Bud Powell recording of Oscar Pettiford’s “Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas” and a little boy exclaimed, “I hear the drums! They sound [like] a train!” Our DC Jazz Bops! curriculum provides the framework for these children to develop pattern recognition skills which translates to almost every area of academic and personal life including mathematics, reading and comprehension, and general intelligence--all of this while exposing them to jazz music and culture!
As a performing artist in a constantly evolving industry, I owe so much to my music education. I hold music educators in very high-esteem and understand the value of dynamic music education programming. Now in our 12th year, the DC Jazz Festival Education Program is establishing deep roots in DC’s educational landscape. It is our goal to continue to nurture the next generation of jazz lovers and provide key educational experiences that help our students thrive. We are working to make the DC Jazz Festival Education Program the go-to resource for music education programming in Washington DC!