Shawmont students get rare visit from ‘Jazz Ambassadors’

It was a high-energy performance inside the Shawmont School auditorium on Friday. When it was all over, the students cheered for more. Because of the rich jazz history in this city, the School District of Philadelphia was one of four school districts across the country selected this year to be provided a week of peer-to-peer concerts and workshops by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz of Los Angeles, Ca. Shawmont was the only elementary school to receive a visit from the ‘Jazz Ambassadors’. The ensemble included students (all either 16 or 17) from the Institute as well as Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride and vocalist Lisa Henry.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to see the top end of musical performance,” said Shawmont Principal Michael Graff. “It’s been a great experience. We’re very grateful to be one of the five schools in the area to be selected.”


The Institute performed at McBride’s Alma Mater, Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP), Northeast High School, and High School of the Future, before arriving at Shawmont School. Shawmont has well-regarded instrumental and vocal programs that feed into these high schools. Students bopped to the beat of the music, cheered at sections they enjoyed the most; some even sang along.

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“This was the first non-high school we’ve been to this week and the students were absolutely amazing,” said McBride. “Their enthusiasm was infectious and just proves that the audience does play a pivotal role.”

Each school visit included an assembly program featuring a musical performance for all students, followed by jazz workshops for each school’s jazz band and choir with the visiting student performers. During the performance, Dr. J.B. Dyas spoke about what jazz is, why it’s important to America, and how a jazz ensemble represents a perfect democracy.

“The audience affects the performance,” Dyas told students. “If you cheer and applaud for something you really like, the jazz musicians will work harder for you. So you really affect the outcome…which is unlike a classical concert. When you go to a classical concert, you’re supposed to sit there quietly and listen to orchestra perform as the composer intended. And at the end politely applaud. But in Jazz, let them know.”

Filling the growing void in arts education left by public school budget cuts, The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s school programs are provided free of charge and use jazz as the medium to encourage imaginative thinking, creativity, a positive self-image, and respect for one’s own and others’ cultural heritage. Established in memory of Thelonious Monk, the well-known jazz pianist and composer, the Institute offers the most promising young musicians college level training by America’s jazz masters through its fellowship program in Jazz Performance, and presenting public school-based jazz education programs around the world.

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