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Students Jam with Professional Jazz Musicians
Posted 3/4/22

Recently, the district and the Napa Valley Education Foundation joined forces to bring JazzReach, a non-profit organization located in New York City dedicated to the promotion, performance, creation, and teaching of jazz music, to NVUSD elementary and high schools throughout the district. Over three days, four JazzReach musicians, introduced students at NVLA, Pueblo Vista Magnet Elementary, and Willow Magnet Elementary School to the jazz genre and also taught clinics for the jazz bands at American Canyon, Napa, and Vintage High Schools. 


Introduction to Jazz

The elementary school program focused on the basics of jazz. An ensemble including a saxophone, keyboard, bass, and drums began with a one-song performance. Prior to playing, students were asked to participate by carefully observing each musician and their collaboration as an ensemble. 


After each performance, students enthusiastically raised their hands, and with a little guidance, identified the three key musical elements of every song: rhythm, melody, and harmony.

To wrap up the experience, students expressed their own creativity through a call and response exercise led by the saxophone. While this final collaboration wasn’t as polished as the opening, the smiles on the students' faces were a beautiful example of engaged learning!



The Clinic

Working with the American Canyon High School (ACHS) Jazz Band, the JazzReach ensemble underscored the same themes of collaboration and improvisation. The professional musicians played with the students–modeling how to make eye contact, listen, and improvise–followed by opportunities for the students to practice. Each member of the JazzReach ensemble gave individualized and group feedback focusing on eye contact and understanding the voicing of chords with the piece.


Arabella Cueto, the ACHS Jazz Band keyboardist, described the experience illustrating the power of close interaction with professional musicians. She noted "The musician modeled how to improvise what to play instead of reading straight off of the sheet music, coming up with harmonies at the top of his head to help accompany the rest of the band." and she was "impressed by how easy he made it look, even though it is much harder."


Jamie Butler, the director of the ACHS choral program, pointed out that in a normal year students would get the opportunity to work with professional musicians and college directors at festivals and competitions. However, due to COVID-19, the past two years have been anything but normal–especially for the visual and performing arts. As a junior, Arabella said that this was the first time she had the opportunity to learn from professional musicians. Summing up the experience, she said, “I really enjoyed getting to see, up close, professional musicians work together and to have them observe me and give me feedback, both positive and constructive.”