An 11-year-old sixth-grader from San Francisco named Juan Romo knew of Jazz music however never had exposure to listening to it the genre nor playing it. He thought he wouldn’t like it.

Just Music

“I used to think it was just music,” the middle schooler explained. “But now I understand people can share how they feel through jazz.”

SFJazz sponsored a workshop teaching the study of Jazz and its history over a two-week course at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle school growing Juan’s new found appreciation for the genre.

This workshop was made possible due to a $3 million sponsorship with hopes to inspire 23,000 students across San Francisco and Oakland middle schools teaching courses from an introductory level to a more intensive semester-long mentorship by professional jazz musicians.

According to Rebecca Mauleon, director of education at SFJazz, the goal of these workshops intend to help expand music education with a focus on jazz.

“Jazz is our American classical music,” Mauleon stated. “It’s the great equalizer.”

However, she explained that such access to a form of art with African American roots isn’t equal.

Statistics drawn from the U.S. Department of Education have shown that among students who received degrees in jazz studies during the year 2015, 44 were African American, 296 were white, and only 38 were of Latino origin. Most of which were male students.

Mauleon also noted that unlike ever before, the All-Stars Big Band at the SFJazz High School has no African American members.

“If you want to play basketball in middle school, it’s free,” stated a musician and instructor at the workshop, Terrence Brewer. “If you want to play music, you have to buy an instrument and buy lessons. Music is not free.”

As A Focus

In an agreement, assistant professor Chris Venesile, of Ohio’s Kent State University, stated that even with music courses offered in school curriculums, jazz is less likely to be offered as a focus.

“That’s always been very, very puzzling to me because the story of jazz and the history of jazz is a history of America,” he explained. “It’s a history of racial injustice in America. It’s a study of democracy.”

SFJazz plans to bring the study of jazz to 70 schools for the upcoming three years which include Brown Jr. Middle School and Willie L. Brown Jr. Middle School in which musicians help mentor a variety of students studying band.

Mauleon is aware that the sponsored grant won’t make all 23,000 students pursue jazz, “But we can give some kids a chance.” she stated.

At the end of Juan’s introductory course, students were given the chance to take participate in a performance of a spoken-word jazz piece held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

“All we need are the berets and the turtlenecks,” stated Jaru Subia, workshop instructor, and spoken-word poet.”

“People said I was a fool,” one student explained to the audience. “People said I was a fool, but turned out that I was cool.”