Jazz House Salutes 15 Years

The Montclair-based arts-education organization turned 15 this year and is celebrating with an October 24 gala at NJPAC.

McBride and Walker share the bandstand at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
McBride and Walker share the bandstand at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
Photo by Stu Rosner

Jazz House Kids is not a kid anymore. The Montclair-based arts-education organization turned 15 this year and is celebrating with an October 24 gala at NJPAC.

The organization started as a one-time workshop with radio station WBGO for Newark schoolchildren. Vocalist Melissa Walker, who conducted the workshop, had a vision for an ongoing music-education program to bring into underserved public schools. The Jazz House was born and, with Walker as president, developed into a much-admired nonprofit providing year-round music training and mentoring for K-12 students.

Some 200 students take part in Jazz House classes or summer workshops each year—and 100 percent of them go on to college, the organization claims.

Jazz House also brings music education into schools in Essex and Union counties, “bridging the gap,” says Walker, where the arts are not well represented.

Kids who are served with music education, notes Walker, “tend to stay more engaged in school, tend to be civic-minded, tend to have stronger grades…. It shores up a lot of the character-building skills they are going to need.”

The Jazz House also provides opportunities for its students and graduates to perform in the community.

As artistic director, Christian McBride, Walker’s husband, recruits jazz luminaries for performances, workshops and master classes. The performers who take part are often surprised by the ambitions of the program and the musicianship they encounter.

“It’s been great to see their reactions,” says McBride, “and how helpful they are once they become part of the Jazz House family.”

McBride will headline the October 24 gala along with Andra Day, David Sanborn, Kenny Barron and Sheila E. The event will also showcase the Jazz House Alumni Band and Jazz House student Matthew Whitaker, a 15-year-old keyboardist from Hackensack and winner of Showtime at the Apollo. For further information and tickets, visit their website.

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