Area Nonprofit Teaches Jazz To Youth
COLLABORATION. Mario Ochoa (left), Danny Seigel and Terrance Nance play a live set for Irvine radio station KUCI (88.9 FM). —Photo by John Santoni

    With camps specializing in virtually every activity from tennis and soccer to fine arts and sailing, area youth don’t seem to lack options this summer.

    Those with musical inclinations may find their niche at Jazz Angels, an area nonprofit that teaches youth not only how to play jazz but also introduces them to its history and cultural significance.

    Jazz Angels Executive Director Barry Cogert founded the program in 2006 with Mark Barnes. Cogert used a fellowship he had received from the Arts Council for Long Beach to help create it. Both are professional musicians who were greatly influenced by jazz musicians in their youth, Cogert said.

    “He and I both had a unique mentoring experience by professional jazz musicians in middle school and high school,” he recalled. “Those are the experiences you never forget.”

    Jazz Angels programs, which are offered quarterly, divide students ages 10 to 17 into four different bands based on skill level. In the summer, there are two-week rehearsal sessions that include two performances.

    The sessions are broken up in a way that Cogert says doesn’t put too much pressure on youth.

    “In today’s world, kids have a lot on their plate,” he explained. “If they can squeeze in our (sessions) and a performance, they can feel complete.”

    This summer, a jazz history class and a media class will be incorporated into the curriculum. Students also will learn how to improvise with their fellow bandmates in addition to attempting solos, which are important aspects of anyone’s musical education, Cogert said.

    “When the kids stand up and take their first solo, and they feel really good about it, and you can see it in their eyes, the success they feel, for me that’s the satisfaction,” he continued.

    Eleven-year-old Maddie Stewart, a student at Hughes Middle School, said that although she really enjoys playing the clarinet with her school band, Jazz Angels introduced her to something new.

    “I thought it would be fun to play a new style of music because you don’t play jazz at school,” she said. “I enjoy playing jazz… It was a challenge, and it still is.”

    “Sometimes people think jazz is beyond their scope of learning, something they can’t do,” Cogert added. “But it really isn’t. They have to be exposed to it in the right format.”

    This summer, Cogert said he hopes to have 100 to 120 youth participants in the program. There will be three two-week sessions, beginning July 6, July 20 and Aug. 3, that take place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Westerly School, 2950 E. 29th St. Cost is $400 per session. Scholarships are available.

    “Our goal is to create an environment for the youth of Long Beach and the surrounding area to develop self confidence and leadership skills, while at the same time learning, playing and preserving jazz,” he said. “Professional mentoring and the skills that they gain during this process transcend beyond music and affect all the areas of personal growth.”

    For more information about Jazz Angels, Inc., call 223-0086 or visit www.jazzangel.org.

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