By Kathleen Mest
I’m sitting at a bar table on the expanded patio at Roxanne’s, where there’s a stage set up complete with lights and speakers. A few weeks ago, I was at Roscoe’s Jazz Lounge with dimmed lights and plush red velvet chairs. This is not a school auditorium, yet I’m watching KIDS playing and grooving to JAZZ.
The Jazz Angels is a local non-profit organization that focuses on Empowering Young
Musicians and Preserving Jazz. And they are definitely accomplishing both.
Bands include 6-8 musicians and feature EVERY musician playing a “solo” and improvising
a melody while accompanied by the other instrumentalists. There is no hiding here. It is a risky business, one in which the kids gain confidence and receive positive feedback while in the welcoming environment that The Jazz Angels maintains.
Former students often return to mentor current students by providing guidance and fellowship. Some students move on to become professional studio musicians or create their own bands. All emerge with a sense of accomplishment through the experience of creating live music.
Jazz - A love story
Every day for about 2 weeks now (and counting), the piano at my house spontaneously plays, “Afternoon in Paris” by John Lewis (Google it, you’ll love it). It’s my son (who doesn’t like to practice) and he is in LOVE with this song. But he’s not performing it for a gig or a lesson. He’s just learning and playing it every day for HIMSELF.
Through The Jazz Angels, this introverted teenager is discovering new music, facing vulnerability, embracing ownership, and understanding accountability. And it fills my heart with joy.
In their own words...
“The Jazz Angels provided a backdrop for me to discover some of my own creativity. As a kid,
you’re introduced to a lot of programs trying to teach you how to play music, but none can communicate the thrill of creating music that comes from improvisation. I get to play in front of an audience, which is its own kind of thrill because all the practice feels worthwhile.”
- Maxwell, age 17
“Before I started playing with the Jazz Angels, I was losing interest in playing the piano. However, practicing and performing with other people made it feel fun again. Performing with The Jazz Angels has also bolstered my confidence in my ability to both sing and play piano in front of people.”
- Ava, age 17
“I love Jazz Angels because it’s really fun and also very educational. It has also taught me a lot about jazz music and has helped strengthen my abilities to work in a team, since the team is the band you’re in. Jazz Angels has had a positive impact on my music skills, has taught me how to improvise, and has helped boost my confidence.”
- Jett, age 14
A few facts about The Jazz Angels:
• 13 bands rehearse each week
• 15-20% of students in the studio programs receive scholarships; no one is turned away for financial reasons
• Scholarship funds provide instruments and private lessons to students in need
• Scholarships are given to students in the LBUSD summer school program in north Long Beach
• Funds provide programs to underserved communities throughout the year in Long Beach, Wilmington, Lynwood and Paramount.
Jazz Angels was founded 15 years ago to help preserve our unique American art form by offering children 11-17 the chance to play jazz and improvise. Our mission quickly evolved to developing flexible programming, mentoring life lessons beyond music: building self-esteem, confidence, and community involvement. When pandemic driven isolation imposed undeserved stress, JA developed online unique programming that promoted interaction and was accessible by all, especially in underserved communities and local middle schools. Recently educators observed ‘post pandemic anxiety’ is rife, especially among middle schoolers. We’re creating programming meeting this new crisis. JA can’t solve all situational dilemmas, but we certainly will keep trying to help. Learn more at jazzangels.org.