Jazz House Kids, a community arts organization dedicated to teaching jazz to children, will hold its annual gala concert on Tuesday, October 24 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, NJ. The concert will feature performances by Andra Day, David Sanborn, Sheila E and Kenny Barron, with musical direction by Christian McBride, who serves as both Jazz House Kids’ artistic director and NJPAC’s jazz advisor. The event also includes a tribute to legendary drummer Roy Haynes, as well as performances by Jazz House Kids alumni, including Matthew Whitaker who won a recent Showtime at the Apollo competition.
The actress Gina Gershon has replaced S. Epatha Merkerson as the emcee for the concert. Merkerson, who had a scheduling conflict, has been an active supporter of Jazz House Kids since its inception and recently emceed the Montclair Jazz Festival which the organization produces. The gala also includes a pre-concert cocktail reception and a post-performance dinner immediately following the concert.
The organization was founded in 2002 by singer and de facto educator Melissa Walker, who had been asked by the radio station WBGO to develop some jazz education programs for children in Newark. As the programs grew in scope and frequency, Walker noticed that the children had very little exposure to jazz. “It struck me that there was a whole world that was missing to kids who were artistically inclined,” she told JT’s Jeff Tamarkin in 2012. “They love music, they love rhythm, they’re involved in it all the time. And here’s this great American art form that’s just not even getting into their space.”
Jazz House Kids was created initially to provide programs to local Newark schools. “You have to be willing to fail and take some risks,” she told Tamarkin. “Not all of the programs that we started would stay, but we really work with our schools to develop programs that meet their needs. We go in with open ears and an open heart and say, ‘What do you need and how can we help?’ We can take this [program] to teachers who feel valued, who feel we’ve given something to kids and parents. You’ve got to be willing to have that flow-this isn’t about information going in one direction.”
Currently the organization sends teaching artists into under-served New Jersey schools to provide instruction, support and mentorship. At the Jazz House music studio in Montclair, the organization provides classes for students aged 8 to 18. And the Jazz House Big Band acts as a college preparatory program and sends students to appear at prestigious events all over the country. The Jazz House Kids summer workshop offers a two-week program of jazz training, playing and listening to over 100 students, culminating in performances at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and at the Montclair Jazz Festival.