College jazz musicians in Los Angeles are helping younger students to understand and appreciate modern jazz.
A program in a Los Angeles middle school promotes the improvisational form of music. It is a collaboration between the Los Angeles school board and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which operates a master's degree program at the University of Southern California.
The college students, who are all accomplished musicians, will tutor students at Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles, teaching the history and methods of jazz. They will be joined, at times, by professional jazz musicians.
The program is named in honor of late pianist Thelonious Monk, who helped create the form of jazz known as "bebop," along with fellow jazz greats Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie and others. Bebop is marked by its staccato beat and complex rhythms and harmonies.
The Monk Institute jazz ensemble performed with the younger musicians at Daniel Webster Middle School at the recent inauguration of the program.
Ensemble musician Dwayne Sean Stephens, who plays tenor saxophone, says his introduction to jazz also came in junior high school.
"And I know if I had this program when I was in junior high, it would have been a great thing," he said. "It would have helped me along even more. So I'm really looking forward to trying to inspire kids like I was inspired when I was younger."
Thirteen-year-old Nadia Hazin plays the flute and until now, has focused on classical compositions. She looks forward to learning the improvisational form of music.
"It's really important because it's a way of expanding my knowledge about music, and it helps me about learning more types of music, like jazz and improvising and stuff like that," she said.
William Barrett is director of instrumental music at Webster Middle School, where he says a lot of students are interested in music. In Los Angeles, however, teachers and principals have a great deal of discretion in the way that they spend funds earmarked for arts instruction. Some schools focus on the visual arts and others on theater. At Mr. Barrett's school, the focus is on music.
"As far as the facilities, it depends on the school," he said. "Definitely, we could always use more funding. That's a constant problem we have with the arts here in the school system. But we make do with what we have, and we have a pretty strong music department here."
The wife of California governor Gray Davis represented her husband at the middle school reception that kicked off the music program. While many parents now demand a stress on basic skills, such as reading, writing and math, Sharon Davis says parents should also encourage their children to study music.
"Now, they may not want their kids to grow up to be musicians, but kids who study art and who study music do better in all their academic classes, and kids who study music in particular are more apt to go on to college," she said
Some research has suggested that musical training may even promote a child's brain development and help students in other fields of learning, such as mathematics.
Whether true or not, teachers say the practice needed to master a musical instrument promotes the discipline students need in other studies. Webster Middle School student Nadia Hazin says she practices her flute two hours each day, and looks forward to expanding her musical repertoire through the new jazz program at her school.