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Youth Jazz Ensembles

Five youth jazz ensembles perform at Winter Fest

Intro | Essential Picks | Marc Cary | Youth Jazz Ensembles

Valley Christian Jazz Ensemble

As a bevy of professional musicians gear up for performances all over downtown—part of the annual San Jose Jazz Winter Fest—there are several groups of decidedly younger, non-professionals preparing to play as well.

In addition to seasoned jazz veterans, like Peppe Merolla, Diane Schuur and Kendrick Scott Oracle, the festival will also host five groups of talented youth musicians, including Valley Christian Jazz Ensemble, San Jose Jazz High School All Stars, Homestead Jazz Ensemble, Los Gatos High School Jazz Band and Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band.

It's all a part of San Jose Jazz's mission, according to Brendan Rawson, the organization's executive director. In the past five years, the organization has ramped up its efforts to increase access to music education in the Bay Area, he says.

"We've been really focusing on this idea of both how we bring our strengths in presenting live music with what we hope to achieve in the realm of education," Rawson says.

Currently, San Jose Jazz offers a number of programs aimed at bringing more music education into schools, as well as offering extracurricular music programs for kids to participate in after school and during the summer.

But in addition to giving kids a chance to hear music and learn to play music, Rawson says the kids need a chance to play—and not just for their parents and friends at their school multi-purpose room.

"A really important part of youth music education is putting them out there with performances in front of real audiences in real venues," he says. "There's really nothing like getting up there on a stage in front of an audience that they don't know."

For one, it empowers the kids, he says—demonstrating that the community has a vested interest in their achievement and growth as artists. "It really empowers them in feeling that they have standing and that their creativity is something to be respected and honored," he says. "It provides validation for all the hard work they've put in."

But there are other benefits, as well, Rawson observes: "It's very scary."

When young people go up on stage and get through a challenge, such as playing before a strange audience, it helps boost their confidence, and also works at satiating the adolescent's thrill-seeking impulse. Which is great, he notes, because there are much more destructive things that the kids could be doing to get a similar release—like taking drugs, having sex or getting involved with gangs.

"Getting up there in front of an audience can be just as scary and just as risk-taking for a young person," he says.

Intro | Essential Picks | Marc Cary | Youth Jazz Ensembles