Jazzanooga’s Youth Music Academy growing and grooving in 2015
In early November, legendary drummer, and Chattanooga native Clyde Stubblefield came home to give a talk in conjunction with a documentary screening at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. During this presentation, he shared a lifetime of experiences in the music industry with a packed audience. Stubblefield, best known for his work with James Brown, played on recordings considered some of the standard-bearers for funk drumming, including singles “Cold Sweat,” “I Got The Feelin’,” “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” and others. Stubblefield’s talent has taken him from a childhood in Chattanooga to the stratosphere of the music industry.
During the event’s Q&A, an audience member asked Stubblefield how he became interested in playing drums. As a child, he explained, his family had gone downtown to Market Street to take in the annual Christmas parade—and there he saw the Air Force Band, heard the drums and became immediately mesmerized by the rhythms. He went home and began to replicate the rhythms by clapping his hands, tapping his feet, and beating on pots and pans. That singular experience cemented what Stubblefield would do for the rest of his life. He was hooked.
How many children in today’s world have the opportunity to get hooked by the arts? How many gifted musicians, painters, singers, writers will go through life never having the opportunity to foster or share their gifts because of the lack of arts education opportunities in our schools and communities? How many little Clyde Stubblefields are there in Chattanooga who will never get hooked by the rhythm?
We know students who participate in arts education show increases in academic performance, college attendance rates, and have employment success in the future. Yet according to Americans for the Arts, students who could benefit most from arts education are the ones who almost certainly attend schools that lack arts programming. It’s up to community organizations, groups and individuals to pick up the slack.
In April 2011, I joined with local arts advocate Shane Morrow to start the organization “Jazzanooga.” We planned to host an annual jazz festival, provide music education for youth, and to work to infuse more jazz performance into the local music scene. Almost 5,000 people participated in Jazzanooga activities last year—but the program most critical to the fledgling organization is the Jazzanooga Youth Music Academy.
The Academy currently has approximately 20 students at varying levels of musical ability. These students meet almost every Saturday in a rehearsal room at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium. The instructors come from a variety of backgrounds—a member of the Chattanooga Symphony, a music teacher with Hamilton County Schools, the former director of the Folk School of Chattanooga. The thread that unites them all is the passionate belief that young people in Chattanooga must have opportunities to study and perform music.
The students are racially and socio-economically diverse. Ages range from 12 to 18, and they come from a variety of neighborhoods and schools: McCallie, Ooltewah, Howard, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles drive into town each weekend, children and instruments in tow, each Saturday morning for instruction, and traverse the town making sure the young people get to their performances.
In 2014 alone, the students have performed at the Aquarium Plaza with the Transatlantic Chilean Folk Orchestra; they jammed on stage at Culture Fest, and provided the entertainment to a sold-out Jazzanooga Brunch at the Hunter Museum. The students ended the year by providing backup to a series of vocalists putting on a benefit concert for the local shelter Room in The Inn. The Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations financially support Jazzanooga’s education programs, but additional support comes from everywhere and in an assortment of forms, from the folks who drive the kids to gigs, community members who volunteer, and even a grandmother who donated a drum set.
The highlight of the Youth Academy year is when students “open” for the Jazzanooga Festival Headline Concerts. In April 2015, this will include 2015 Grammy-nominated vocalist Gretchen Parlato and ten-time Grammy winners Take 6.
Among the many local groups doing amazing things to supplement arts instruction for Chattanooga’s youth in schools, the Jazzanooga Youth Music Academy is an excellent example of one that knows what it takes to get kids “hooked” on music.
For more information about the Jazzanooga Youth Music Academy, visit jazzanooga.org and follow Jazzanooga on Twitter @Jazzanooga.