This summer, a new learning opportunity is opening up for a handful of gifted young musicians in Winnipeg’s underserved neighbourhoods. Thanks to a grant from the Manitoba Arts Council and some determined maneuvering by Jazz Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, and a few committed souls, we’re rolling out the first incarnation of the Jazz on Wheels Academy, a supported learning initiative that prepares bright musical kids to perform music in their own communities.
The Academy takes its lead from programs I was involved in when I lived in St Louis and New York City, and learning structures I’ve been honing here in Winnipeg with the Bridge program at Hugh John Macdonald and more recently the Jazz Academy option in the CanU program.
Young musicians learn best and fastest when they’re embedded in groups of accomplished players. They know what they’re aiming for—and because they don’t know how hard it is, they outstrip everybody’s expectations. (Isn’t that a bit like life?!) I’m pulling in several grade 5 and 6 kids I worked with in the CanU program, along with three junior high students who have been working with Neil Watson and Simon Christie at Hugh John Macdonald.
I’m gathering a handful of really gifted teachers to work up close with them, including a couple of my pedagogy students who worked in the CanU program this year. I’m also drawing in a young Bridge graduate to help mentor these younger players.
We’ll have several sessions working on everything from managing the technical demands of their instruments to learning repertoire. I look forward to these times—that combination of serious work and crazy fun makes working on music with kids one of my favourite ways to spend some time. At the end of the Jazz on Wheels Academy, these bright young musicians will be ready to sit in for a couple of tunes in our Jazz on Wheels shows.
I know how important it is to the kids to be able to play for their families and friends. They nearly burst from excitement and pride at showing the world what they have to offer. I also know from my own childhood how important it was to see people like me performing on stage—it gave me hope that I could choose a path out of despair and into positive self-expression.
We’re planning six learning sessions for seven young musicians in this first year of the Jazz on Wheels Academy. It’s a bit more modest than I want, but I’m willing to start small so that we can allow this initiative to really take root. Let me know if you want to give us a hand.
Meantime, keep an eye on these kids. They’re coming to a stage near you this summer, but they’re gonna be on your playlist in ten years!