An Impressive Finish for Jazz in the Classroom Class of 2021

Among the myriad challenges COVID-19 has created for students and teachers, music education has proven a tough nut to crack. This is particularly true for jazz, with its emphasis on interaction, musical conversation and spontaneity – all rendered decidedly less practical by the constraints of virtual learning. Students like Elder Gindroz, a pianist, longtime participant in the Institute’s Los Angeles Jazz in the Classroom program and member of the Class of 2021 spent much of the last academic year finding creative ways to stay engaged when the bandstand was off limits.

“It was very disappointing to not be able to play live with my school ensembles and combos this past year,” says Gindroz, echoing similar sentiments from young jazz musicians across the country. Still, the talented pianist turned his long hours at home into an opportunity for growth, from brushing up on fundamentals (“practicing, transcribing, listening to a lot of music”) to acquiring new competencies that will serve him long after the pandemic has faded. “The newest skill I learned,” he notes, “was how to better navigate the process of making recordings at home.”

This expertise was on full display at the Institute’s Jazz in the Classroom Virtual Spring Concert, presented in June 2021 with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Beyond the Bell Branch Music and Entertainment Education. Gindroz joined his classmates from the top combo, led by Jazz Director Philip Topping, at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts at Hamilton High School for a virtual rendition of Cedar Walton’s “Ugetsu.”

Elder Gindroz, top left, joined fellow students from the Academy of Music and Performing Arts at Hamilton High School (clockwise from top right) Osmar Barrios on drums, Brennan Sakata on bass, Kobie Dozier on tenor saxophone and Declan Houlihan on vibraphone for the Institute’s 2021 Jazz in the Classroom Virtual Spring Concert.

Students performed under the direction of Institute teaching artist Kevin Kanner, a Hamilton alum. As has become a familiar practice over the past 18 months, individual parts were recorded asynchronously at home, and then stylishly edited together by the students. Though none of the players were in the same room, the performance sounded crisp and lively, with swinging solos by Gindroz on piano and bandmates Kobie Dozier on tenor saxophone and Brennan Sakata on bass.

The masterful recording is especially impressive considering that Gindroz, along with fellow recent Hamilton graduates Osmar Barrios and Declan Houlihan, began his jazz journey just five years ago as a Jazz in the Classroom student at Walter Reed Middle School.

All three students credit their time in Institute programs with helping them develop a deep-seated passion for jazz. Notes Barrios, a drummer, “it was amazing to be able to work with extremely talented musicians like Dontae Winslow and Kevin Kanner. They are incredible musicians and human beings. In the sessions that I would get with the school combos I would learn a lot about jazz; not only how to swing but also where jazz comes from. The Institute is a great opportunity to grow musically and as a person.” 

For Houlihan, a vibraphonist, “the Herbie Hancock Institute was a very significant and essential part of my jazz education, starting in middle school up until my senior year of high school. I feel very lucky and privileged to have been shown the foundations of bebop, how to transcribe, how to listen to my bandmates and play with them–the truest essence of the music.”

“I was excited to see three students who were previously in the Jazz in the Classroom program at Reed continue with the program at Hamilton,” says Reed Middle School Orchestra and Jazz Director Stewart Rosen. “It is truly amazing to see how far they were able to take jazz in their four years in high school. I am so proud of them, and I know they all have so much to look forward to after graduating.”

Gindroz, Barrios and Houlihan now join more than 80 other Institute students across the country who are slated to start their collegiate studies in the fall.

Many members of the Class of 2021 will be entering professional music programs at prestigious institutions such as the Berklee College of Music, Juilliard, New England Conservatory of Music, and Manhattan School of Music. Others plan to pursue studies in areas as diverse as marine biology, physics, business and pre-med at schools including New York University, Stanford, the University of Miami, the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt, California State University, Northridge and many more. Three students will matriculate at UCLA, recently ranked one of the top 15 universities in the world by Times Higher Education and the home of the Institute’s master’s degree program, the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Adding to the impressive slate of college destinations is the fact that 76% of graduating seniors secured significant scholarships, with most covering at least 25% of tuition. This financial support is crucial in enabling many Jazz in the Classroom graduates to attend college. As part of their participation in the Institute’s program, students have access to experienced mentors and teaching staff who provide vital input on scholarship applications and even advocate directly for students.

Jazz in the Classroom has been a core program of the Institute since 1989, introducing millions of young people to jazz and its rich history through weekly music instruction and instrument training sessions. Like all Institute programs, Jazz in the Classroom is offered entirely free of charge to participating students, families, schools and communities. In addition to regular instruction in major cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., the program reaches tens of thousands of students every year through master classes and assembly programs in urban, rural and remote areas of the country. Leading jazz musicians and educators teach and serve as role models, helping students enhance their creativity and self-esteem.

Beyond enhancing students’ understanding of and appreciation for jazz, programs like Jazz in the Classroom have well-documented related benefits, especially for students from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. Through intensive mentorship and regular technical instruction, students are given the tools to unlock their potential in addition to their musical ability – preparing them for success in academics, in the workplace and in later life. As a recent report by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music notes, “The benefits of music training reach far beyond the domain of music-making. Children perform better on IQ tests and enjoy enhanced abilities in other domains, such as mathematics, the ability to focus, make decisions, and hold multiple ideas in their minds at one time.” In addition, music programs “improve school attendance and graduation rates.”

The Institute is proud that 100% of Jazz in the Classroom students graduate from high school, with more than 95% going on to college.

“Our partnership with the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz has been fruitful in more ways that can be measured,” says Tony White, coordinator for LAUSD Beyond the Bell Branch Music and Entertainment Education.

“Having the teaching artists from the Institute work side-by-side with our schools has encouraged participants to continue studying and performing jazz, but more importantly has taught them how to use the creative energy that jazz intensifies in all parts of their lives. The students and teachers involved in the program continue to sing (and play) the praises.”

For Gindroz, Jazz in the Classroom has played an important role in helping him expand his horizons both on and off the bandstand. The 18-year-old, who will matriculate at California State University, Northridge in the fall, gave his first public jazz performance as an eighth-grader at an Institute concert, and just a few years later was selected to compose and perform an original piece in honor of jazz legend Herbie Hancock.

“Jazz opens up your mind,” says Gindroz, “and provides you with a better understanding and appreciation for many other genres of music. Unlike classical piano, which is more about learning and perfecting pieces exactly how they are written, jazz requires you to delve deeper into yourself to improvise and have your own voice. I believe this process builds confidence and originality that will help in many different aspects of life.”

Asked about the role of jazz in helping him navigate the challenges of the pandemic, Gindroz simply replied, “Having jazz as a creative outlet during that difficult time was how I kept a positive outlook on life.”

Virtual Informance with U.S. Dept. of Education shows the uplifting power of jazz

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona joined Institute Chairman Herbie Hancock to co-host a special virtual peer-to-peer jazz informance for students and educators across the United States and around the world, highlighting the extraordinary history and legacy of jazz as a healing, uplifting art form.

The session, organized in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month 2021 and the 10th Anniversary Celebration of International Jazz Day, included virtual performances by the Institute’s National Peer-to-Peer All-Star Jazz Septet along with an educational presentation by Institute Vice President of Education and Curriculum Development Dr. JB Dyas. Hancock and Secretary Cardona participated in a memorable 15-minute discussion on the importance of jazz as a tool for self-affirmation and self-expression.

“It takes a lot of courage to play jazz,” noted Hancock. “To not know exactly where you’re going to go, and then when that moment comes, to…jump off that cliff–that takes courage to do that. After a while, you kind of get used to that feeling of ‘it’s going to be ok,’ so it develops this spirit of being fearless. Everybody needs that.”

The April informance was offered as a free webinar in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education and with lead funding from United Airlines and the National Endowment for the Arts. The program attracted attendees from more than 30 countries, including the United States, Brazil, Finland, Indonesia, Japan and South Africa.

The full informance is available to watch below:

Announcing two free ways to learn about jazz this summer

The Institute is pleased to announce two free summer jazz programs to help students across the United States and around the world engage in new ways with jazz, its rich history and its legacy of diversity and innovation. Starting June 22 with Jazz in America, Institute Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development Dr. JB Dyas will explore the complex origins of jazz music, rooted in the African-American experience in the United States, with three 8-session mini-courses for students in grades 4-12. On June 25, Institute teaching artists will launch a 10-week BeBop to Hip-Hop Summer Program for aspiring high school producers, musicians and rappers to learn collaboratively from some of the most renowned names in hip-hop. Both programs are offered at no cost to participants.

The Institute’s virtual summer jazz programs are made possible through the generous support of AT&T.

Jazz in America Summer Sessions

What is jazz? Where did it come from? Take a journey through the history of America’s greatest musical gift to the world with this free 8-session webinar series taught by Dr. JB Dyas, the Institute’s Vice President of Education & Curriculum Development. Students will learn about basic musical concepts like melody, harmony and improvisation; discuss how jazz began as a uniquely American art form; become familiar with the key eras of jazz, including swing, bebop, modal jazz, fusion and more; and hear and see performances by important jazz innovators like Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Herbie Hancock.

Mini-courses are offered for students in grades 10-12 (June 22-July 8), grades 7-9 (July 13-29) and grades 4-6 (August 3-12). Advance registration is required. Learn more

BeBop to Hip-Hop summer jazz program

For more than 15 years, the Institute’s BeBop to Hip-Hop program has brought together jazz and hip-hop students under the direction of professional jazz musicians and hip-hop artists to create a new art form demonstrating the genius of both musical genres. Aspiring young artists study the musical dynamics of both jazz and hip-hop and learn about the historical influence of jazz on hip-hop.

The BeBop to Hip-Hop summer jazz program will allow promising emcees, rappers, lyricists, producers, turntablists, vocalists and musicians in grades 9-12 to learn directly from some of the industry’s most accomplished figures. Instructors including DJ Khalil, Mike and Keys, and Tariq Beats (with more to be announced) will guide students as they create original music over the course of 10 sessions. Applications are required and will be accepted through Tuesday, June 23.

Students will meet with instructors online each Thursday from 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm PDT/7:00 pm – 8:30 pm EDT starting June 25th and running through August 27th. In between sessions, students will be given assignments by instructors to help them develop their original music and prepare for the culminating online performance. Learn More

The Institute goes virtual in response to COVID-19

With schools across the country closed indefinitely and state and local governments encouraging self-isolation and shelter-in-place strategies, the Institute is deploying its industry-leading educational resources and award-winning teaching staff to support students, parents and educators across the United States. Programs like Jazz in the Classroom and the National Performing Arts High Schools initiative are still being offered via Zoom to our partner schools in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and beyond.

Working closely with band directors and music teachers at each school, each online session is tailored to the needs of each student or ensemble and includes lessons in jazz history, theory and improvisation, transcription, key jazz repertoire and technical skills, including “gap” areas in student knowledge that can be adeptly addressed through virtual learning such as reading and playing syncopated rhythms. 

NEW Online Summer Sessions Announced

The Institute recently announced that it would be offering a series of free online summer sessions for students from grades 4 through 12, based on the innovative Jazz in America and BeBop to Hip-Hop education programs.

Beginning on June 22, Institute Vice President for Education and Curriculum Development Dr. JB Dyas will lead a virtual webinar series using the Jazz in America jazz history and appreciation curriculum. Each age-appropriate session will take students on a fun, fascinating journey through jazz. Sessions will be offered in three groups: grades 10-12 (June 22-July 8), grades 7-9 (July 13-29) and grades 4-6 (August 3-12). Learn more and register for the free Zoom sessions today.

On June 25, Institute staff and teaching artists will offer a 10-week BeBop to Hip-Hop Masterclass Series, at no cost to participants, for up to 100 students across the country. Aspiring producers, musicians and rappers will create music with guidance from renowned music industry professionals. Students will have opportunities to collaborate virtually on original music projects. Applications must be received by Tuesday, June 23. Find out how to submit your materials today.

We Need Your Help to Offer the Best in Jazz Education–Now Online

Institute Chairman Herbie Hancock explains how the Institute is updating its programming in response to the coronavirus.

Have a look at how students across our programs, from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music to Jazz in the Classroom, have been continuing their students virtually:

The Institute will continually update this post with new distance learning resources geared to students of all ages. Stay tuned, and stay healthy!