Junior Jazz Festival Attracts Kids to Museum in Philadelphia

The Please Touch Museum presents extensive jazz program aimed at children

Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble
Louie Miranda
Oran Etkin
Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble in performance at Junior Jazz Festival
Junior Jazz Festival at Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia
Junior Jazz Festival at Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia

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Apparently the folks at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia didn’t get the memo that the jazz audience is dying off. Or then again, maybe they did. And that’s why they’re devoted the month of February to the Junior Jazz Festival, a series of workshops and performances specifically geared to young children. Francis Coates, the music coordinator at the museum, confirmed that the series has been going on for a long time. It’s now in its 18th year of presenting kid-friendly jazz shows on site at the museum. But he and the museum didn’t seem to have an agenda beyond engaging kids in a fun learning experience.

Coates explained that jazz is just part of the mix there at the museum, located at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park. “We present classical, Latin, country and other genres. Jazz is the first genre of the year,” explained Coates. “Philadelphia has a rich jazz tradition, with so many great musicians coming from here, including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Ethel Waters. So jazz is a great way to kick off the year for us.”

The museum is known for its hands-on approach to learning (hence its name) and Coates said that the reaction to the jazz performances has always been good. “The kids love it. They stand up and dance and clap,” he said. The series even ends with a swing band dance party.

He said that not all jazz artists are cut out for performances for kids, but that the successful performers include lots of audience participation to produce the maximum engagement with the kids. “There are some groups that kids now come to see specifically because they saw them the year before,” noted Coates. He pointed to Warren Oree’s Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble and guitarist Louie Miranda as the real stars of the Junior Jazz Festival. “They know how to get the kids involved. We don’t want performers who just stand on stage and play. The best ones make sure that it’s interactive.” And relatively short. Coates noted that performances are all less than 30 minutes, and optimally are about 20 minutes long. “You know, kids don’t have that long an attention-span.” Yes, I’ve heard something about that. But he said that when a jazz performer does well, the kids stick around and ask questions about the instruments or the music or whatever it is that pops into their developing little minds.

Beyond the special guest performances, the Festival also includes an ongoing stage show called “Scat Cats Junior Jazz Jamboree,” which includes puppets as fictionalized jazz characters such as Piggy Lee, Bunny Goodman and Stingray Charles. That show runs Monday through Friday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

For a complete list of performances that run until February 28, go to the Please Touch Museum’s web site.