Jazzing up the classroom

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They never played jazz at my elementary school. I feel a little bit deprived as a result. On Tuesday, I watched the Washington Rucker Jazz Ensemble play to a packed auditorium at Braddock Drive Elementary School. It was a darn good show. The lighting could have been a little softer, the seating a little cozier, the air a little smokier, my sobriety a little iffier, but all in all, I can’t complain.

The students at Braddock Drive Elementary didn’t just get a show, they got an education in the history of the first truly American form of art. The musicians explained the roots of jazz music – how it began in New Orleans more than one hundred years ago as a “jazzed-up” dirge that was played as the bereaved marched in a procession from a cemetery following a funeral. The five-person ensemble demonstrated their individual instruments, and explained the importance of each as a piece of the collaborative effort.

The concert is part of a Black History Month program sponsored by The Los Angeles Jazz Society, with the aim of introducing young students to jazz and, “through the concerts and specially developed curriculum, help them understand the important contribution made to American culture by African Americans.” There will be 90 in-class concerts in the series, featuring stellar jazz artists, and reaching more than 25,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students. The Society is a nonprofit organization underwriting the cost of the “Jazz in Schools” program.

I’m thrilled for the kids that will get a taste of this music during their formative years. I’m also a little bitter that I didn’t. However, with the Jazz Bakery returning to Culver City (and, according to a proposal being bantered about at recent city council meeting, becoming involved in the Summer Concert Series), I’m delighted that this city will sound of sax, trumpet, bass, piano, drums – jazz. And if you’re as excited about that as I am, be sure to check out Jonathan Weiss’s twice-monthly column, Musing on Music. He’s constantly championing the genre and finding out where the best music will be playing.

And don’t worry, if they didn’t play jazz at your elementary school and you want to learn to appreciate the music, just remember that it’s never to late to educate yourself. See you in school (the one with the soft lighting, cozy chairs, smoky air and adult beverages).