Some of the youth of Kansas City are learning the fundamentals of jazz, thanks in part to the leader of the music department at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley.
Clarence Smith directs a jazz combo and jazz ensemble at MCC-Penn Valley. He also teaches percussion, music appreciation and jazz history. He has also been a director of the Kansas City Youth Jazz program for seven years.
This year, Smith is also leading the Kansas City Jazz Academy, a music education program the American Jazz Museum launched last year. It was a big success, bringing in more than 100 students in grades kindergarten through 12. Smith is the program, project and production manager of the Jazz Academy, and works with the beginning combo class when time permits.
“Jazz is America’s most important contribution to the world of art, and it’s important for American children to know about it,” Smith said. “When playing in a group, young musicians gain team skills, and it motivates them to practice and be prepared on their specific music parts.”
The Jazz Academy’s spring semester started Feb. 3 and continues through May 12. Sessions are available for toddlers and pre-K as well as elementary school students and teens. Students are being accepted for the spring semester through March 10.
The Jazz Academy has six jazz teachers, including Stan Kessler, Paul Roberts, Joe Miquelon and Osmond “Os” Fisher. Greg Richter and Willa Eaton, who teach pre-K and elementary students, come to the Academy from the Charlie Parker Foundation.
Classes involve instruction about the core concepts, instruments and great performers of jazz. They also utilize improvisation, movement, story and song to explore the jazz experience.
For more experienced students, performance-based educational experiences are offered in big band, combos and improvisation classes. These classes are designed for students in grades 7-12 with at least one year of experience playing an instrument.
Through improvisation, jazz “offers young people an opportunity to become a musical astronaut,” Smith said. “The ability to compose on the spot is difficult, but when accomplished it gives the individual player an emotional and spiritual lift.”
For more information about the Kansas City Jazz Academy, click here.